- Objectives: Despite known differences in electrocardiographic (ECG) findings by sex, only empirical thresholds for both sexes exist in current ECG guidelines for screening athletes for risk of sudden cardiac death (SCD). We hypothesize that our large dataset – with diversity in age, race, and sport participation – can be utilized to improve ECG screening in female athletes.
Methods: Computerized 12-lead ECGs were recorded and analyzed in female athletes who underwent PPE between 06/2010 and 09/2021. The 2017 international criteria for ECG interpretation were compared to either the 99th percentile in our cohort or the percentile that corresponded to the known disease prevalence for HCM and Long QT syndrome. For ST depression the 99.5th percentile, a marker for HCM, was used; for QTc prolongation, the 99.9th percentile was used. RS wave amplitude was considered a marker for hypertrophy or low voltage.
Results: Of 3476 athletes, the 2017 international criteria classified 2.2% with at least one ECG abnormality requiring cardiological evaluation. Rates were similar across ages, race/ethnicity, and sporting discipline. Using a percentile approach based on our population, 3.3% would require additional workup. Surprisingly, ST depression up to 0.03 mV was a normal finding in this cohort. If RS voltage extremes were considered abnormal findings, an additional 9.6% of the population would be flagged using current definitions. This number decreases to 3.4% if using the 99th percentile.
Conclusion: These results highlight a difference in the reported prevalence of ECG abnormalities when comparing empirically derived thresholds to statistically derived ranges that fall outside the 99th percentile. Consideration of new metrics specific to the female athlete population has the potential to further refine athlete ECG screening.