Background: Anomalous origin of coronary arteries (AOCA) is a rare congenital disease. Although it may have a benign course, it has been identified as a frequent cause of sports-related sudden death. Unfortunately, in vivo detection of AOCA is not easy, as individuals with this anomaly often are asymptomatic and show no signs of myocardial ischemia. Presently, transthoracic two-dimensional echocardiography (TTE) is the only noninvasive, widely available tool to visualize the ostia and first tracts of coronary arteries.
Objective: To assess the efficacy of TTE in the screening of AOCA in a large athletic population.
Study design: In a prospective study, we assessed the ostia and first tracts of coronary arteries in 3,650 subjects (mean age, 30+/-12 years) practicing different sports at various competitive levels. Subjects underwent a TTE examination in our laboratory for scientific or diagnostic purposes.
Results: Technically satisfactory echocardiograms were obtained in 3,504 subjects (96%); a clear visualization of the ostia and first tracts of both coronary arteries was obtained in 3,150 cases (90%). Three asymptomatic athletes (0.09%) were suspected to have an AOCA; two with a right coronary artery origin from the left sinus, and one with a left coronary artery origin from the right sinus. Diagnosis was confirmed by coronary angiography.
Conclusions: Our study indicated that AOCA is rare in asymptomatic athletes. Systematic and accurate exploration of coronary anatomy in athletes referred for a diagnostic TTE examination may be useful in identifying those with AOCA.