On the Horizon: ECG Screening for Texas High School Athletes
The Texas House of Representatives has tentatively approved House Bill 767 which will require ECG/EKG screening for students wishing to participate in scholastic sports. If adopted, this bill will make Texas the first state in the union to make screening for cardiac anomalies mandatory for potential student athletes.
The screenings will be incorporated with the physical exams required for participation in school sports programs. The bill includes a provision to opt out of the screening at the request of the student and at least one parent. Screening will be required before the first and third year of the student’s participation in sports.
In previous efforts to get such a bill passed, obstacles have been encountered. There can be false positive diagnoses in an ECG, which would require a more extensive, and expensive, echocardiogram to determine the nature and severity of the abnormality. There is also the financial aspect – the cost of the ECG exam – and who will be responsible for picking up the tab.
According to the Cody Stephens Go Big or Go Home Foundation, which helps provide free heart screenings, 17 out of 15,000 students getting the exam were found to be at risk. This translates to more than 1,000 in one million students who could potentially suffer a catastrophic cardiac event during or after participating in a sporting event or practice. In the 2012-2013 school year, more than 7.7 million students participated in sports nationally. We can all do the math.
In November 2016 a study was begun to put the debate to rest by screening thousands of North Texas students with ECGs as part of a $125,000 research study which will be completed in 2020. The results of this study should answer the question as to whether ECGs should be included as part of an athlete’s pre-screening to participate in sports. As more is understood about sudden cardiac arrest and the factors which underly the deaths of a young athlete every 72 hours.