Sudden cardiac death (SCD) in competitive athletes, though relatively uncommon, invariably leads to controversy. Specific limitations of an extensive screening process include lack of robust evidence to support prevention of SCD, poor cost-effectiveness and uncertain downstream implications of a positive screening test. An emerging body of evidence points to enhanced neurologically intact survival to hospital discharge when automated external defibrillators (AEDs) are used in a timely manner following sudden cardiac arrest (SCA). A viable alternative to an expansive screening process could be a robust secondary prevention system comprising of improvements in AED availability, stringent enforcement of CPR training in athletes and trainers to provide timely and effective resuscitation to reduce death following SCA. This strategy could widen the window to diagnose and treat the underlying etiology and prevent recurrence of SCA while also offering financial feasibility. Restricting athletes from competitive sports is a difficult decision for physicians owing to a lack of well-defined cutoffs for acceptable and prohibitive risk from pathology predisposing to SCD, especially in the absence of a protective medico-legal framework. In this review, we highlight a few cases that generated intense scrutiny by the public, media and medical professionals about the efficacy, feasibility and pitfalls of the existing screening process to diagnose cardiovascular pathology predisposing to SCD. Furthermore, contrasting approaches to screening, diagnosis and downstream workup protocols between the European Society of Cardiology and the American Heart Association are analyzed.

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