The Diagnostic Utility of Computer-Assisted Auscultation for the Early Detection of Cardiac Murmurs of Structural Origin in the Periodic Health Evaluation

Sports Health. 2017 Jul/Aug;9(4):341-345. doi: 10.1177/1941738117695221. Epub 2017 Feb 1.


Background: Identification of the nature of cardiac murmurs during the periodic health evaluation (PHE) of athletes is challenging due to the difficulty in distinguishing between murmurs of physiological or structural origin. Previously, computer-assisted auscultation (CAA) has shown promise to support appropriate referrals in the nonathlete pediatric population.

Hypothesis: CAA has the ability to accurately detect cardiac murmurs of structural origin during a PHE in collegiate athletes.

Study design: Cross-sectional, descriptive study.

Level of evidence: Level 3.

Methods: A total of 131 collegiate athletes (104 men, 28 women; mean age, 20 ± 2 years) completed a sports physician (SP)-driven PHE consisting of a cardiac history questionnaire and a physical examination. An independent CAA assessment was performed by a technician who was blinded to the SP findings. Athletes with suspected structural murmurs or other clinical reasons for concern were referred to a cardiologist for confirmatory echocardiography (EC).

Results: Twenty-five athletes were referred for further investigation (17 murmurs, 6 abnormal electrocardiographs, 1 displaced apex, and 1 possible case of Marfan syndrome). EC confirmed 3 structural and 22 physiological murmurs. The SP flagged 5 individuals with possible underlying structural pathology; 2 of these murmurs were confirmed as structural in nature. Fourteen murmurs were referred by CAA; 3 of these were confirmed as structural in origin by EC. One such murmur was not detected by the SP, however, and detected by CAA. The sensitivity of CAA was 100% compared with 66.7% shown by the SP, while specificity was 50% and 66.7%, respectively.

Conclusion: CAA shows potential to be a feasible adjunct for improving the identification of structural murmurs in the athlete population. Over-referral by CAA for EC requires further investigation and possible refinements to the current algorithm. Further studies are needed to determine the true sensitivity, specificity, and cost efficacy of the device among the athletic population.

Clinical relevance: CAA may be a useful cardiac screening adjunct during the PHE of athletes, particularly as it may guide appropriate referral of suspected structural murmurs for further investigation.

Keywords: athletes; cardiac murmur; computer-assisted cardiac auscultation; periodic health assessment.

MeSH terms

  • Auscultation / methods*
  • Clinical Decision-Making
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Diagnosis, Computer-Assisted*
  • Early Diagnosis
  • Feasibility Studies
  • Female
  • Heart Murmurs / diagnosis*
  • Heart Murmurs / pathology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Examination*
  • Referral and Consultation
  • Sensitivity and Specificity
  • Sports*
  • Young Adult