Should young athletes be screened for heart conditions?

Gary Tinsley
Minnesota Gary Tinsley (51) plays against Northwestern during an NCAA football game, Saturday Oct. 2, 2010 in Minneapolis. Tinsley was found dead in his campus apartment, Friday, April 6, 2012, in Minneapolis. He died of an enlarged heart.
AP Photo/Paul Battaglia

University of Minnesota football player Gary Tinsley was found dead April 6 of a heart condition at the age of 22. The Hennepin County Medical Examiner said he died of an enlarged heart.

Sudden cardiac arrest is the leading cause of death in young athletes, but what factors contribute to this heightened risk in otherwise healthy individuals? Some physicians believe that mandatory EKG screening for young athletes is the key to saving lives, while others believe the screening is too costly and would do more harm than good. What is the real risk for young athletes and what can we do the prevent deaths?

William Roberts, professor of family medicine and community health at the University of Minnesota and the foundation president of the American Medical Society of Sports Medicine, will join The Daily Circuit Monday to talk about heart conditions in young athletes.

Screening all athletes would be tough due to the economic barriers of the test, Roberts said.

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"This issue of screening hits on socioeconomic factors," he said. "I currently work at a clinic on the east side of Minneapolis and the schools near us are 85 percent free and reduced lunch. We have many students who just can't afford an EKG test. It's a totally different scene than what we'd see in athletes in Edina or Eden Prairie."

Discouraging young people from exercising due to the risk isn't worth it, Roberts said.

"I would say that ultimately it's much better to have kids be active then not just for such a small risk [like sudden cardiac death]," he said.

Mike Ackerman, cardiologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic, will also join the discussion.

"HCM [hypertrophic cardiomyopathy] is a death sentence to athletics," he said. "Right now guidelines say if you have this disease you're disqualified from all sports... It's a one-size-fits-all approach, we just say, 'you're disqualified.' We need to individualize the athlete, the risk, the disease."