Abnormal ECG Findings Are Common in NBA Players

Abnormal ECG Findings Are Common in NBA Players

New research finds that about 1 in 5 professional basketball players had abnormalities on their electrocardiograms (ECGs), some but not all of which were explained by changes in the shape and size of their hearts as a result of athletic training.

Because of rare but high-profile instances of cardiac death among professional athletes, there is intense interest in identifying test markers of abnormal heart function that may put players at risk. The National Basketball Association (NBA) mandates annual cardiac screening to ensure the safety of its players. Athletes are known to have changes in their hearts and ECG patterns appropriate to their intense athletic training, so athlete-specific criteria have been developed to distinguish normal from abnormal ECG findings. This study investigated how those criteria perform in NBA athletes.

Researchers David J. Engel, MD, of the Columbia University Medical Center, New York, and co-authors, studied ECG findings for NBA athletes using three athlete-specific ECG criteria, with corresponding echocardiogram findings, including ECGs from NBA athletes (n = 404) who participated in the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons, and participants in the 2014 and 2015 NBA predraft combines (n = 115). Since this is a descriptive study, the researchers did not gather information about underlying causes for the findings and cannot make conclusions about their medical or athletic significance.

They found that compared to other athletes, abnormal ECG findings were found in:

  • 81 NBA athletes (15.6 percent) using 2017 criteria
  • 108 NBA athletes (20.8 percent) using 2014 criteria
  • 131 NBA athletes (25.2 percent) using 2012 criteria

Increased left ventricular relative wall thickness (RWT) was associated with abnormal ECG findings. Abnormal T-wave inversions (a type of abnormal ECG finding) were present in 32 athletes (6.2 percent), and was associated with smaller left ventricular cavity size and increased RWT.

Authors caution results cannot be generalized to athletes in other sports and to youth basketball players.

Read the journal article and related editorial here.

SOURCE: Journal of American Medical Association

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