Study leader Dr. Victoria L. Vetter, a pediatric cardiologist at The Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, said the preliminary results suggest a relatively low-cost screening -- a 10-minute electrocardiogram -- might help identify children who are at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
"In the United States, the current American Heart Association guidelines recommend screening only competitive athletes, not all children, using history and physical examination alone," Vetter said in a statement.
In Italy and Japan, which have compulsory screening of all athletes or schoolchildren, researchers found adding the ECG to the history and physical increases the likelihood of detecting children at risk for sudden cardiac arrest.
The researchers evaluated 400 healthy subjects ages 5-19 who were screened using a medical family history questionnaire, a physical examination, an ECG and an echocardiogram. The study, published in the American Heart Journal, identified previously undiagnosed cardiac abnormalities in 23 subjects, and hypertension in an additional 20, with 10 of the 400 subjects with serious cardiac conditions not detected by primary care physicians.
"Using ECG outperformed the history and physical examination and found previously unidentified potentially serious abnormalities that would not have been identified by history and physical examination alone," the study authors said.
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