The role of cardiac computed tomography in pre-participation screening of mature athletes

Eur J Sport Sci. 2021 Feb 1;1-27. doi: 10.1080/17461391.2021.1883125. Online ahead of print.


The overwhelming majority of sports-related sudden cardiac deaths in mature athletes is attributed to coronary artery disease (CAD). Coronary plaques of mature athletes appear to be more calcified compared to sedentary individuals and thus may be more stable and less likely to be associated with an acute coronary event. Cardiac computed tomography (CT), including unenhanced CT for coronary artery calcium scoring (CACS) and contrast-enhanced coronary CT angiography, is characterized by very high negative predictive value to rule out CAD. Cardiac CT has been shown to have additional diagnostic value for detection of CAD in athletes over and above exercise electrocardiogram. Moreover, measurement of CACS possibly enables a more precise cardiovascular risk stratification of mature athletes. The main advantage of cardiac CT is its noninvasive nature. Although cardiac CT appears to increase the overall cost of cardiac examinations, this additional cost is much lower than the cost of unnecessary invasive coronary angiographies that would be performed in case of false positive results of exercise electrocardiograms. Radiation exposure may not be a major concern for the application of this modality to pre-participation screening of athletes, since recent technical advancements have resulted in low radiation dose of cardiac CT.

Keywords: athletes; calcium score; coronary CT angiography; coronary artery disease; pre-participation screening.