Significance of false negative electrocardiograms in preparticipation screening of athletes for hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

Am J Cardiol. 2012 Oct 1;110(7):1027-32. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.05.035. Epub 2012 Jul 16.


Preparticipation screening of athletes with 12-lead electrocardiography has been promoted for the detection of asymptomatic cardiovascular disease, particularly hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HC). Although false-positive electrocardiographic (ECG) results for HC are well recognized in athlete screening, expected false-negative rates are unknown. The aim of this study was to characterize the rate of false-negative ECG findings in a cohort of young asymptomatic patients with phenotypically expressed HC, defined by cardiovascular magnetic resonance, using the 2010 European Society of Cardiology recommended ECG criteria for the identification of suspected heart disease in trained athletes. Cardiac magnetic resonance studies and 12-lead electrocardiography were performed in 114 consecutive asymptomatic patients with HC aged ≤35 years (mean age 22 ± 8 years; 77% male patients). Electrocardiograms were analyzed to distinguish pathologic ECG patterns from alterations considered nonpathologic and physiologic consequences of athletic training. Among the 114 patients with HC, 103 (90%) demonstrated ≥1 pathologic ECG abnormality, while the remaining 11 patients (10%) had normal or nonpathologic ECG patterns and therefore defined a subgroup in whom ECG screening would not be expected to raise suspicion of heart disease (i.e., false-negative results). In this false-negative ECG results group, maximal left ventricular wall thickness was 17 ± 2 mm (range 15 to 21), compared to patients with pathologic ECG patterns, in whom maximal left ventricular wall thickness was 22 ± 5 mm (p = 0.003). In conclusion, a substantial minority of young asymptomatic patients with HC with phenotypically expressed left ventricular hypertrophy have nonpathologic ECG findings on the basis of the 2010 European Society of Cardiology guidelines. In principle, this high false-negative rate of 10% represents an important limitation in applying 12-lead electrocardiography to large, apparently healthy athletic populations for the detection of HC.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Athletes*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / diagnosis*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / epidemiology
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / physiopathology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Electrocardiography / methods*
  • Exercise Test / methods
  • False Negative Reactions
  • Female
  • Follow-Up Studies
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine / methods
  • Male
  • Mass Screening / methods*
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Severity of Illness Index
  • Survival Rate / trends
  • United States / epidemiology
  • Young Adult