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Should young athletes have chest x-rays or echocardiograms done before they play sports? 

I have questions regarding the young athletes that have passed on the court. Should they have had a chest x-ray or echocardiogram? Should this not be done before they play sports to make sure there are no heart problems? . . . Thank you very much for your time. Any and all info will be appreciated.

submitted by Myra from Houston, Texas on 3/07/2011


by Texas Heart Institute cardiologist, James T. Willerson, MD  

James T. Willerson, MDThe four major causes of sudden death during athletic competition are a very thick or hypertrophied heart; a heart with an anomalous origin for a coronary artery; replacement of the bottom part of the right heart with extensive fibrous and fat tissue (arrhythmogenic right ventricular dysplasia); and a spongiform replacement of heart tissue in the bottom part of the left heart (non compaction of the left ventricle). An echocardiogram would detect three of these and an MRI all four of them and with better reliability than the echocardiogram. The electrocardiogram  would allow one to suspect the thick heart, but not allow one to detect any of the others.  An ECG should be obtained, though, to screen for other heart problems.

At the Texas Heart Institute, we have been screening junior-high school children by parking an MRI van in the school's driveway and screening all of the kids at that public school in a 15 minute study that does not involve any needles. We have already screened more than 500 children on our way to screening 10,000 junior high school students in the Houston area. I hope this will then be a model for evaluating young kids before they are allowed to become very involved in competitive athletics. I hope this is helpful to you.  

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Updated March 2011
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