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Universal Cardiac Screening For All Young Athletes?

It’s heart wrenching when young athletes die of sudden cardiac death (SCD). Last week the death of Wes Leonard, a Michigan high school star athlete, was especially poignant since he collapsed right after making the game-winning shot. This sort of tragedy occurs about one hundred times each year in America. That’s a lot of sadness. The obvious question is: Could these deaths be prevented? Let’s start with what actually happens.

Most cases of sudden death in young people occur as a result of either hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), an abnormal thickening of heart muscle, or long QT syndrome (LQTS), a mostly inherited disease of the heart’s electrical system. Both HCM and LQTS predispose the heart to ventricular fibrillation — electrical chaos of the pumping chamber of the heart. The adrenaline surges of athletic competition increase the odds of this chaos. Unfortunately, like heart disease often does, both these ailments can strike without warning.

Sudden death is sad enough by itself, but what makes it even worse is that both these ailments are mostly detectable with two simple painless tests: The ECG and echocardiogram (heart ultrasound). Let’s get these kids ECGs and echos then. “Git ‘er dun,” you might say.

On the surface the solution seems simple: Implement universal cardiac screening of all young athletes. And you wouldn’t be alone in thinking this way. You could even boast the support of Dr. Manny Alvarez of Fox News and the entire country of Italy, where all athletes get ECGs and echos before competing. But America isn’t Italy, and things aren’t as simple as Fox News likes to suggest. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Dr John M*

The Energy Drink

By Scott Gavura, BScPhm, MBA, RPh for Science-Based Medicine

My stimulant of choice is coffee. I started drinking it in first-year university, and never looked back. A tiny four-cup coffee maker became my reliable companion right through graduate school.

But since I stopped needing to drink a pot at a time, an entirely new category of products has appeared — the energy drink. Targeting students, athletes, and others seeking a mental or physical boost, energy drinks are now an enormous industry: From the first U.S. product sale in 1997, the market size was $4.8 billion by 2008, and continues to grow. (1)

My precious coffee effectively has a single therapeutic ingredient, caffeine. Its pharmacology is well documented, and the physiologic effects are understood. The safety data isn’t too shabby either: it’s probably not harmful and possibly is even beneficial. (I’m talking about oral consumption — no coffee enemas. Please.) In comparison, energy drinks are a bewildering category of products with an array of ingredients including caffeine, amino acids, vitamins, and other “natural” substances and assorted “nutraceuticals,” usually in a sugar-laden vehicle (though sugar-free versions exist). Given many products contain chemicals with pharmacologic effects, understanding the risks, signs of adverse events, and potential implications on drug therapy, are important.

So are energy drinks just candied caffeine delivery systems? Or are these syrupy supplements skirting drug regulations?

The Message

The ads are seductive. Who doesn’t want more energy? Who doesn’t want their mind and body “vitalized?” And don’t we have time-starved lifestyles? Initially envisioned for athletes, energy drinks are now marketed mainly towards teens and young adults, where uptake has been dramatic. Cross-promotion with extreme sporting events, and creating names like “Full Throttle,” “Rockstar,” and even  “Cocaine” burnish the “extreme” image. The market is now segmented further with products targeted at women, vegetarians, diabetics, celiacs, and more. However you identify yourself, there’s probably an energy drink developed with you in mind. Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at Science-Based Medicine*

Simple Blood Test To Detect Mild Brain Injury?


FREDERICK, Md. — The Army says it has discovered a simple blood test that can diagnose mild traumatic brain damage [TBI] or concussion, a hard-to-detect injury that can affect young athletes, infants with “shaken baby syndrome” and combat troops.

“This is huge,” said Gen. Peter Chiarelli, the Army vice chief of staff.

Yes, it is, if it pans out. There’s so little actual information in this that it’s hard to get excited about it, but let’s say they’ve isolated a “brain injury” protein.

First, it would have uses outside traumatic brain injury (TBI), though that in and of itself might be useful. I don’t want to poo-pooh this test for TBI, but there are already rules for returning to contact sports (and combat has to be the ultimate in contact activities), so what’s the purpose here? (I forsee more Purple Hearts, which is fine.)

Stroke? TIA? Seizure? Pseudotumor cerebri, as a strain indicator? What if this is the test that allows us to diagnose meningitis without doing lumbar punctures? I’m all in on that front. Let’s hope this pans out, for all our sakes.

*This blog post was originally published at GruntDoc*

Sudden Death In Young Athletes And Routine Cardiac Screening

It’s the dog days of what seems to have been an unusually hot summer (though DrRich does not know whether it has been sufficiently warm to affect the global cooling trend we’ve been in for the past decade), and as is all too common at this time of year, we are seeing extraordinarily heartbreaking stories (like this one) about healthy, robust young athletes dying suddenly on the practice fields.

Most of these tragic sudden deaths are due to a heart condition called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy often does not produce any symptoms prior to causing sudden death. But it can be easily diagnosed, before exercise-induced sudden death occurs, by screening young athletes with electocardiograms (ECGs) and echocardiography.

A couple of summers ago, the New York Times wrote about such an athletic screening program at the University of Tennessee. Based on the U of T’s results, “cardiologists and other heart experts say that the screenings could help save the lives of the 125 American athletes younger than 35 who die each year of sudden cardiac death.” Read more »

*This blog post was originally published at The Covert Rationing Blog*

Be Aware Of Heat Dangers In Young Athletes

Young athleteWith back-to-school time around the corner, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has issued a warning about the risk for heat-related illness in young athletes, especially football players, the Los Angeles Times reports.

Coaches and parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of heat stroke, dehydration and other problems, and fluid replacement formulas should be used during practices and workouts, among other precautions, the LA Times said.

*This blog post was originally published at ACP Internist*

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