Context: Sudden death in young competitive athletes due to unsuspected cardiovascular disease has heightened interest in preparticipation screening.
Objective: To assess screening practices for detecting potentially lethal cardiovascular diseases in college-aged student-athletes.
Design, setting, and participants: A total of 1110 National Collegiate Athletic Association member colleges and universities were surveyed between 1995 and 1997, with 879 (79%) responding to the questionnaire.
Main outcome measures: Information on the administration and scope of the preparticipation screening process was obtained from the team physician or athletic director; preparticipation screening forms were evaluated for content and compared with 12 items recommended by the 1996 American Heart Association (AHA) consensus panel screening guidelines.
Results: Preparticipation screening was a requirement at 855 (97%) of 879 schools, was performed on campus at 713 schools (81 %), and was required annually by 446 schools (51 %). Team physicians were responsible for examinations at 603 (85%) of 713 schools with on-campus screening, although 135 of these schools (19%) also approved nurse practitioners and 244 schools (34%) allowed athletic trainers to perform examinations. Of the history and physical examination screening forms analyzed from 625 institutions, only 163 schools (26%) had forms that contained at least 9 of the recommended 12 AHA screening guidelines and were judged to be adequate, whereas 150 (24%) contained 4 or fewer of these parameters and were considered to be inadequate. Smaller Division III schools were more likely than larger Division I schools to have inadequate screening forms (30% vs 14%; P<.001). Relevant items that were omitted from more than 40% of the screening forms included history of exertional chest pain, dyspnea, or fatigue; familial heart disease or premature sudden death; and physical stigmata or family history of Marfan syndrome.
Conclusion: The preparticipation screening process used by many US colleges and universities may have limited potential to detect (or raise the suspicion of) cardiovascular abnormalities capable of causing sudden death in competitive student-athletes.