Preparticipation cardiovascular screening

Clin Sports Med. 2003 Jan;22(1):23-35. doi: 10.1016/s0278-5919(02)00040-6.


Regular aerobic exercise provides many health benefits regardless of age, and should be promoted by health care providers to all patients. In older athletes, coronary artery disease is the most common cause of sudden death. There is widespread consensus, however, that the overall health benefits derived from exercise outweigh the risks of participation. Screening should focus on identifying signs and symptoms of underlying cardiovascular disease by obtaining a personal and family history and performing a focused physical examination according to the recommendations of the AHA. Exercise testing is recommended in males older than 40 and females older than 50, and individuals with cardiac risk factors. Cardiovascular PPE screening in young athletes remains a challenge, because potentially fatal abnormalities are uncommon and in some cases are undetectable without sophisticated testing. Most sudden cardiac deaths in athletes are caused by anomalies that are clinically silent, are rare, or are difficult to detect by history and physical examination. Many athletes may not experience symptoms consistent with heart disease or may not report family histories of sudden cardiac death. Important clues to a cardiac abnormality include history of syncope, chest pain, and family history of sudden death. Any underlying condition suspected on the basis of history or physical examination requires further diagnostic evaluation before the athlete can be cleared for activity. Currently there is considerable variability and inconsistency among state requirements for PPEs. A national adoption of a more uniform PPE screening process should be encouraged. The screening process should include the AHA's cardiovascular screening recommendations, as this would assist in closing the gap between screening practices recommended by sports medicine experts and the reality of current screening practices. Although the extent of screening continues to be debated, clinical guidelines for performing PPEs and determining clearance have been established. Without a uniform implementation of the current guidelines, it will not be possible to assess the value of the current cardiovascular screening recommendations in detecting and preventing cardiovascular death in young athletes. Physicians should be aware of the emerging role of genetic testing for cardiovascular diseases in athletes with a family history of heart disease or sudden death. Advances in the diagnosis and understanding of cardiovascular disease may provide better tools for preventing sudden death of young athletes in the future [11].

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiovascular Diseases / diagnosis*
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / economics
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Mass Screening / standards
  • Physical Examination*
  • Sports Medicine*