Research presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session revealed that pre-participation screenings may be too restrictive for black athletes. A report from EurekAlert.org claims that the current European guidelines can lead to some false positives if race is not included because the screening guidelines are based on white athletes. “We need to develop ethnicity-specific guidelines when interpreting ECGs for the purposes of pre-participation screens, specifically when it comes to black athletes,” said lead study author, Nabeel Sheikh.

Many athletes undergo cardiac screening to detect possible heart conditions before being allowed to participate in student or professional sports. Current European screening guidelines, which are based on data from white athletes, can lead to the over-investigation and potential false disqualification of healthy athletes of African or Afro-Caribbean descent, according to research presented today at the American College of Cardiology’s 61st Annual Scientific Session. The Scientific Session, the premier cardiovascular medical meeting, brings cardiovascular professionals together to further advances in the field.

The study examined the European Society of Cardiology’s screening guidelines, which are used by sports organizations throughout Europe to help doctors interpret electrocardiogram (ECG) results to identify athletes at risk for sudden cardiac death. A 2011 report estimated one in 44,000 athletes die from sudden cardiac death each year. The U.S. counterpart to the European guidelines does not currently require an ECG.

Although the European guidelines were revised in 2010 to reduce false positives, they still flag many athletes with perfectly healthy hearts – particularly black athletes – according to the study. The researchers found 43 percent of black athletes participating in the study would be identified for further investigation under the 2010 guidelines.

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