During the summer, student athletes will often begin practicing for their fall sports.
Before they can compete, they must have a state required pre-participation exam or physical.
The physicals usually include height and weight evaluation, vision tests, blood pressure check, cardiac and respiratory screenings, and orthopedic and musculoskeletal exams.
Yet one test that is not performed routinely for student athletes is an electrocardiogram, or EKG screening, which could detect a potential cardiac issue.
Nationally, sudden cardiac arrest is the number one cause of death in student athletes during play or practice, taking the lives of thousands every year, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.
An EKG screening of high school athletes could give a clue that an athlete may not be able to compete, said Dr. Robert Myerburg, cardiac electrophysiologist and researcher with the University of Miami Health System and Miller School of Medicine.
An EKG records the electrical activity of the heart. It checks for signs of heart disease, and is used to detect heart attacks, arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats) and heart failure.
The majority of athletes are cleared to play but 15 percent will have an abnormality that will prevent them from playing, Myerburg said. Abnormalities are rare, but they need to be detected so they can be managed.
The parents of one Miami Beach student athlete who died from sudden cardiac arrest are determined that student athletes be tested with an electrocardiogram to see whether they have an undetected heart issue.
Some detractors say EKGs are hard to interpret and cite the costs as a concern, Myerburg noted.
But, since the late 1990s and early 2000s, EKGs have been a part of the pre-participation exams for all professional athletes, he said. For nearly 20 years, many colleges have included EKGs in their athletic exams. The University of Miami and the University of Alabama were among the first universities to do so.
The number of sudden deaths in high school athletes is higher than college or pro athletes because there are more high school athletes than college or pros, Myerburg said. But if a sudden death is prevented and the student athlete receives treatment, then he or she can live many more years.
Although the state of Florida doesn’t mandate an EKG for high school athletes at public schools, some private schools require EKG screenings for high school athletes.
Free physicals for athletes, which include voluntary EKG screenings, have been provided for 30 years to Miami-Dade County Public Schools by the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute, which is a part of Baptist Health South Florida.
Most common conditions discovered during the physicals include hypertension, vision problems and sclerosis, a problem with the spine that is not sports related, said Edward Garabedian, vice president of the Miami Orthopedics & Sports Medicine Institute.
The institute has donated to schools automatic defibrillators (AEDs), which shock the heart back into rhythm after sudden cardiac arrest. It also provides a physician and an athletic trainer at every Miami-Dade varsity high school football game, and athletic trainers at youth football games for children ages 6-12.