Assessing the utility of yearly pre-season laboratory screening for athletes on a major professional sports team

J Sci Med Sport. 2019 Apr;22(4):484-487. doi: 10.1016/j.jsams.2018.10.011. Epub 2018 Nov 6.


Objectives: Professional athletes undergo annual pre-season laboratory screening, although clinical evidence supporting the practice is limited and no uniform set of guidelines on pre-season laboratory screening exists. The aim of this study was to assess the clinical value of annual pre-season laboratory screening tests for a major professional sports team over multiple years.

Design: Retrospective chart review.

Methods: A retrospective analysis was performed of all laboratory results as well as screening ECGs for a single major professional sports team over a 9-year timeframe (2009-2017).

Results: The data show that 10.01% of initial screening test results were abnormal and 40.32% of abnormal tests resulted in additional testing. Overall, only 0.35% of initial tests resulted in a clinically significant outcome. Non-US born players showed a significantly higher average rate of abnormal tests/year compared to US-born players (p-value 0.006), but there was no difference in clinically significant outcomes. There was no relationship between athlete age and laboratory screening outcomes.

Conclusions: In our study population, yearly pre-season laboratory screening of professional athletes did not yield substantial clinically significant outcomes and would not be warranted under normal clinical standards. Future best practice guidelines should combine research concerning effects of family medical history, race, gender, country of origin, and type of sport on athlete health when creating recommendations for which pre-season laboratory screenings may be pertinent even with evidence of little utility.

Keywords: Best practice guidelines; Immunization; Preparticipation physicals; Sickle cell trait; Sudden cardiac death.

MeSH terms

  • Athletes
  • Clinical Laboratory Techniques / trends*
  • Diagnostic Tests, Routine / trends*
  • Electrocardiography
  • Humans
  • Mass Screening / trends*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sports Medicine / methods*