The aim is to pick up potentially life-threatening problems that put young athletes at risk and to cut the numbers collapsing and dying while participating in competitive sport.
A European Society of Cardiology consensus report published (Wednesday 2 February) in Europe's leading cardiology journal, the European Heart Journal, recommends that every young athlete involved in organised sport has a rigorous physical examination, a detailed investigation of their personal and family medical history and, most importantly, a 12-lead ECG.
The report's writers believe that screening using ECG has the potential to cut sports-related cardiac deaths in Europe by 50%-70% if it can be implemented in every country.
Lead author Dr Domenico Corrado from the Departments of Cardiology and Pathology at the University of Padova, Italy, said: "We know very little about the risk of sudden death associated with exercise in young competitors, so the benefits versus the hazards of sports activity pose a clinical dilemma. However, we know from a study in the Veneto region of Italy that adolescents and young adults involved in competitive sport had a two and a half times higher risk of sudden death. The young competitors who died suddenly were affected by silent cardiovascular diseases, predominantly cardiomyopathies, premature coronary artery disease and congenital coronary anomalies."
He said it was not sport that directly caused the deaths, but rather that it triggered cardiac arrest in athletes with underlying diseases predisposing them to life-threatening ventricular arrhythmias.
The consensus group was also drawing on the results of Italy's 25-year experience of systematic pre-screening in reaching its conclusions. Italy has a mandato
Contact: Margaret Willson
European Society of Cardiology