Prevalence of abnormal electrocardiograms in a large, unselected population undergoing pre-participation cardiovascular screening

Eur Heart J. 2007 Aug;28(16):2006-10. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehm219. Epub 2007 Jul 10.


Aims: The implementation of 12-lead ECG in the pre-participation screening of young athletes is still controversial and number of issues are largely debated, including the prevalence and spectrum of ECG abnormalities found in individuals undergoing pre-participation screening.

Methods and results: We assessed a large, unselected population of 32,652 subjects [26 050 (80%) males], prospectively examined in 19 clinics associated to Italian Sports Medicine Federation. Most were young amateur athletes, aged 8-78 years (median 17), predominantly students (68%), engaged predominantly in soccer (39%), volleyball or basketball (8% each), athletics (6%), cycling (5%), swimming (4%). The ECG patterns were evaluated according to commonly used clinical criteria. The 12-lead ECG patterns were considered normal in 28 799 of the 32 652 athletes (88.2%) and abnormal in 3853 (11.8%). The most frequent abnormalities included prolonged PR interval, incomplete right bundle branch block (RBBB) and early repolarization pattern (total 2280, 7.0%). Distinct ECG abnormalities included deeply inverted T-waves in > 2 precordial and/or standard leads (751, 2.3%), increased R/S wave voltages suggestive of LV hypertrophy (247, 0.8%), conduction disorders, i.e. RBBB (351, 1.0%), left anterior fascicular block (162, 0.5%), and left bundle branch block (19, 0.1%). Rarely, cardiac pre-excitation pattern (42, 0.1%) and prolonged QTc interval (1, 0.03%) were found.

Conclusion: In a large, unselected population of young athletes undergoing pre-participation screening, the prevalence of markedly abnormal ECG patterns, suggestive for structural cardiac disease, is low (<5% of the overall population) and should not represent obstacle for implementation of 12-lead ECG in the pre-participation screening program.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Age Factors
  • Aged
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / epidemiology*
  • Child
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Italy / epidemiology
  • Mass Screening
  • Middle Aged
  • Prevalence
  • Sports*