Variability in interpretation of the electrocardiogram in young athletes: an unrecognized obstacle for electrocardiogram-based screening protocols

Europace. 2015 Sep;17(9):1435-40. doi: 10.1093/europace/euu385. Epub 2015 Feb 5.


Aims: To assess in young athletes (i) the variability in the percentage of abnormal electrocardiograms (ECGs) using different criteria and (ii) the variability in ECG interpretation among cardiologists and sport physicians.

Methods and results: Electrocardiograms of 138 athletes were categorized by seven cardiologists according to the original European Society of Cardiology (ESC) criteria by Corrado (C), subsequently modified by Uberoi (U), Marek (M), and the Seattle criteria (S); seven sports physicians only used S criteria. The percentage of abnormal ECGs for each physician was calculated and the percentage of complete agreement was assessed. For cardiologists, the median percentage of abnormal ECGs was 14% [interquartile range (IQR) 12.5-20%] for C, 11% (IQR 9.5-12.5%) for U [not significant (NS) compared with C], 11% (IQR 10-13%) for M (NS compared with C), and 7% (IQR 5-8%) for S (P < 0.005 compared with C); complete agreement in interpretation was 64.5% for C, 76% for U (P < 0.05 compared with C), 74% for M (NS compared with C), and 84% for S (P < 0.0005 compared with C). Sport physicians classified a median of 7% (IQR 7-11%) of ECGs as abnormal by S (P = NS compared with cardiologists using S); complete agreement was 72% (P < 0.05 compared with cardiologists using S).

Conclusion: Seattle criteria reduced the number of abnormal ECGs in athletes and increased agreement in classification. However, variability in ECG interpretation by cardiologists and sport physicians remains high and is a limitation for ECG-based screening programs.

Keywords: Athletes; ECG; Screening.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Athletes / statistics & numerical data*
  • Data Interpretation, Statistical
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Europe
  • Heart Diseases / prevention & control*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mass Screening
  • Societies, Medical