Background: Sudden cardiac death (SCD) in children and adolescents is rare. Several studies have reported a higher risk of SCD during athletic competition. High risk congenital coronary artery abnormalities are the second leading cause of SCD in young athletes in the USA. Echocardiographic assessment of coronary arteries has not been routinely used in screening programmes for junior athletes so far.
Design: Prospective cohort study in 1045 consecutive adolescent elite football players.
Methods: All athletes underwent a standardized cardiovascular screening protocol with a medical history, a physical examination, 12-lead resting electrocardiogram and a complete transthoracic 2D-echocardiography.
Results: Two athletes (0.19%) showed a high-risk coronary artery abnormality (CAA) with a right coronary artery originating abnormal from the aorta and coursing inter-arterial. Low-risk CAAs were found in 16 athletes (1.53%). There was an ectasia of the left coronary artery (+3.9z and +4.3z) and a fistula from the left coronary artery in two cases (0.19%), respectively. In 1.05% ( n = 11) we found a high take-off (2.3-6.8 mm) and in one case (0.096%) there was a tangential take-off of the right main coronary artery. Variants of coronary arterial anatomy were identified in 335 of 1045 athletes (32.06%).
Conclusion: Basic pre-participation screening tests including 12-lead or exercise electrocardiogram do not safely identify high-risk CAAs. In adolescent athletes an expert cardiologist is able to describe the origin and the proximal course of the coronary arteries and identify major abnormalities in most of the cases by transthoracic 2D-echocardiography.
Keywords: Sudden cardiac death; adolescent; athletes; coronary artery; echocardiography; football.