Sports medicine specialists throughout the world persistently look for ways to avoid these tragedies. Perhaps one way is already within grasp.
One of the most important parts of a medical examination is recording a family history. Information regarding illnesses that have affected a patient’s ancestors is noted.
Diagnostic tests are growing in cost and the expense related to screening every athlete for potentially deadly conditions is prohibitive for many athletic programs.
Often the family medical history will indicate what tests will have the most value, based on specific conditions.
• Neurologic. Athletes in whom there is a family history of brain aneurysms should have radiologic studies to screen for any vascular abnormality. Epileptic seizures in close relatives or in the athlete’s childhood can be further investigated with an EEG. A family history of dementia at an early age suggests caution when participating in contact sports where concussions are common.
• Cardiac. Screening tests to avoid sudden cardiac death are increasingly common. These examinations are imperative for athletes with a family history of abnormal cardiac rhythms, coronary artery disease at a young age or sudden cardiac death. An EKG or echocardiogram is a useful screening test.
• Hematologic. Sickle cell trait and a variety of inherited forms of anemia can lead to abnormal clotting and decreased oxygenation of vital organs.
The success of this strategy is based on full disclosure by parents regarding the family medical history. Some families have refused to submit their children for testing despite the potential danger.
Careful attention to physical risk based on family medical history can make sports participation safer.