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Objective: To determine the effect of electrocardiogram (ECG) screening on the prevention of sudden cardiac arrest and death in young athletes and military members. Data Sources: MEDLINE, Embase, CENTRAL, Web of Science, BIOSIS, Scopus, SPORTDiscus, PEDro, and were searched from inception to dates between February 21 and July 29, 2019. Study Selection: Randomized and nonrandomized controlled trials in which preparticipation examination including ECG was the primary intervention used to screen athletes or military members aged ≤40 years. Acceptable control groups were those receiving no screening, usual care, or preparticipation examination without ECG. Three published studies and 1 conference abstract were identified for inclusion. Data Extraction: In all 4 studies, risk of bias was assessed using the Cochrane risk-of-bias tool and was found to be generally high. Two studies had data extracted for random effects meta-analysis, and the remaining study and conference abstract were included in the narrative review. The overall quality of evidence was assessed using the Grading of Recommendations, Assessment, Development and Evaluation approach. Data Synthesis: We included 4 nonrandomized studies (11 689 172 participants), of which all had a high risk of bias. Pooled data from 2 studies (n = 3 869 274; very low-quality evidence) showed an inconclusive 42% relative decrease in risk of sudden cardiac death (relative risk = 0.58; 95% CI = 0.23, 1.45), equating to an absolute risk reduction of 0.0016%. The findings were consistent with a potential 77% relative decreased risk to a 45% relative increased risk in participants screened using ECG. Heterogeneity was found to be high, as measured using I 2 statistic (71%). Data from the remaining study and abstract were similarly inconclusive. Conclusions: Existing evidence for the effect of ECG screening is inconclusive and of very low quality. In our meta-analysis, we observed that screening ECG may result in a considerable benefit or harm to participants. Higher-quality studies are needed to reduce this uncertainty.

Original publication




Journal article


Journal of Athletic Training

Publication Date





444 - 451