The purpose of this study was to determine if pre-participation screening of athletes with a strategy including resting and exercise electrocardiography (ECG) reduces their risk for sudden death.
An increasing number of countries mandate pre-participation ECG screening of athletes for the prevention of sudden death. However, the evidence showing that such a strategy actually reduces the risk of sudden death in athletes is limited. We therefore analyzed the impact of the National Sport Law enacted in Israel in 1997—which mandates screening of all athletes with resting ECG and exercise testing—on the incidence of sudden death among competitive athletes.
We conducted a systematic search of the 2 main newspapers in Israel to determine the yearly number of cardiac arrest events among competitive athletes. The size of the population at risk was retrieved from the Israel Sport Authority and was extrapolated to the changes in population size over time.
There were 24 documented events of sudden death or cardiac arrest events among competitive athletes during the years 1985 through 2009. Eleven occurred before the 1997 legislation and 13 occurred after it. The average yearly incidence of sudden death or cardiac arrest events was 2.6 events per 100,000 athlete-years. The respective averaged yearly incidence during the decade before and the decade after the 1997 legislation was 2.54 and 2.66 events per 100,000 person years, respectively (p = 0.88).
The incidence of sudden death of athletes in our study is within the range reported by others. However, mandatory ECG screening of athletes had no apparent effect on their risk for cardiac arrest.