Sudden death in athletes

A recent report in the Journal of the American Medical Association details how a group in the Veneto region of Italy cut back on the incidence of sudden cardiac death in athletes by a simple screening program.

You can read the abstract of the article at

Although sudden death in athletes is still a rare event, it is especially tragic when it happens. In this population, the incidence was 3.6 deaths per 100,000 athletes aged 12 to 35 years. By implementing a simple screening program that involved only a physical examination and an EKG, an astounding 89% reduction in sudden death was documented.

What lessons does this hold for those of us interested in coronary plaque reversal? Beyond the obvious lesson of pointing out the great benefit of simple screening of athletes, I believe that it tells us the value of simple screening tools for heart disease in general. It is my strong belief that, if we were to implement CT heart scans among the broad population of men 40 years and over, women 50 years and over--without regard to cholesterol or other relatively lame risk identifiers--we could slash the risk for heart attack and death 90% or more. Putting CT heart scans into the hands of the public makes your coronary risk obvious. It takes the guesswork out of risk predictors like cholesterol and high blood pressure.

But heart scans are already available, you say! Yes, of course they are. But the lack of insurance reimbursement continues to be a restricting factor for many people, despite the number of lives that could be potentially saved and the money that would be saved in the long run by reducing need for major heart procedures. The continuing resistance to prevention by my cardiology colleagues and the persistent ignorance of primary care physicians also remain major impediments.

But it's getting better. You don't have to be chained by ignorance. Put your CT heart scan to good use.