In Western medicine, especially the U.K. and U.S.A., mandatory screening for cardiac disease in young people doesn’t exist.
The NHS currently offers screening for the following:
- Newborns (blood, cardiac, hearing tests, and physical examination)
- Pregnancy (foetal abnormalities, blood tests, and infectious disease)
- Diabetic eye testing (annual follow-ups for cases confirmed in >12 year olds)
- Cervical (every 3 years for 26-49 year olds, and every 5 years for 50-64 year olds)
- Breast cancer (50-70 year olds, 70+ individuals can self-refer)
- Bowel cancer (55-74 year olds)
- Abdominal Aortic Aneurism (65 year old men. Over 65s can self-refer)
These tests are designed to aid in patient healthcare and to alleviate the long-term financial burden on the heath service, but as you can see, they’re fairly narrow in their scope. Aside from newborns, the vast majority of the screening programmes cater to individuals in later life, or after index presentation/diagnosis. If one suspects an abnormality, then of course, there are many private options available, and in fact, cardiac screening for precursors to sudden cardiac death (such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) is in place for young athletes. Given that the estimated number of young people with the abnormality currently stands at 1 in 500, it has been theorised with this and other cardiac diseases in mind, that mandatory screening for young people could ease the cost on the NHS, enhance patient treatment/safety and the emotional fallout that comes as a result of the morbidity associated with serious cardiac conditions.
The results of a nationwide U.K. screening programme known as Cardiac Risk in the Young imply that mass-screening that also encompasses ECG in addition to the standard physical exam and history increases the likelihood of early diagnosis and actually saves money.
The results are the endpoint of a 4-year process, involving roughly 30,000 young persons who were screened using the above methods, all of which were performed and interpreted using the relevant professionals and governing body guidelines.
8.1% of the 30,000 were deemed to produce an abnormal 12-lead ECG, 3.5% had an abnormal physical exam and/or history, and 0.5% showed abnormality in all three areas. 11.7% underwent echocardiography to confirm or deny the presence of dysfunction, 0.9% were referred for cardiac MRI, 1.7% were moved on to longer-term ECG monitoring, and 1.7% had exercise stress testing.
87 abnormalities associated with SCD syndrome were positively diagnosed at the 2-year follow up mark, accounting to 0.3% of the cohort, and 83% of this number was done so using the ECG alone. Interestingly this 83% was found in individuals who presented as asymptomatic, and would likely go undiagnosed otherwise.
The cost of this screening and subsequent treatment of a positive identification is estimated to be 20% lower than the cost of treatment and screening using current requirements, due to its lowering of false positives from 21.8% to 4.3%. This, in turn, lowers the amount of unnecessary follow ups, so this study may have great implications for young athletes, and non-athletes alike in helping to spot these potentially fatal conditions, many of which can be managed.
More on this story and more at: Cardiac Risk in the Young