There’s about a one in 15,000 chance that a student athlete will experience sudden cardiac death. For African-American men, the chance can be even greater: as high as one in 7,000, according to Dr. Shannons Woods, medical director of sports medicine at CoxHealth.
That’s why CoxHealth decided to add EKGs to its sports physicals for college athletes.
"The scary thing about sudden cardiac death is only 15 percent of the time does somebody have a symptom prior to dying. So, the vast majority of cases, the first symptom is death," said Woods.
CoxHealth takes care of all athletes at Drury and Evangel Universities—a total of around 850 students.
According to Woods, the new EKG testing looks for congenital abnormalities in the heart structure or electrophysiology, the leading causes of death in young people. He said CoxHealth follows American Heart Association guidelines when conducting the exams and when asking questions to the student athletes during the sports physicals.
Woods said, on average, five to 10 percent of students tested will be identified as needing further care by a cardiologist.
"Last year, we identified a young person that actually was in heart failure due to a viral condition and did not know it and had an ejection fraction of 15 percent, which is severe heart failure," he said, "and we were able to identify him and, thankfully, save his life."
Woods said that student is doing well now.
If an EKG is abnormal, health professionals will determine if further imaging is needed and if an athlete needs to be seen by a cardiologist.
According to Woods, the goal of the additional testing is to identify any condition that can be treated and reduce the risk of sudden cardiac death while allowing an athlete to participate in sports after treatment.