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New heart screening for young athletes

A large study of young athletes who died suddenly during or after exercise confirms the most common cause of death was a genetically transmitted heart disease that went undetected in routine medical exams.

The study comes a month before the American Heart Association is scheduled to recommend new screening procedures for young athletes. The association will recommend doctors do more detailed exams of athletes whose families have a history of heart problems.

The most common genetic defect among the athletes who died was hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a disorder in which the heart muscle is inflamed. Of the 134 athletes in the study, 36 percent had the disease, while most of the rest had about 20 other structural heart problems.

Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is rare and not easily detected without a costly echocardiogram. Since victims usually have a close relative with the disease, it might make sense to do the procedure on athletes whose families reveal others with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

Overall, sudden death among high school athletes is rare, occurring to only 1 in 200,000. But many of the cases draw attention because they happen to seemingly healthy people, including figure skater Sergei Grinkov, who had a gene variant that some researchers suspect might be a sign of heart problems.

The research was in last week's Journal of the American Medical Association, which included several articles on the Olympics and sports medicine.

Discovering other media

Fans of author Patricia Cornwell and her Dr. Kay Scarpetta novels might enjoy Discover Magazine on the Discovery Channel at 8 p.m. and midnight Sunday. Entitled "Forensic Detectives," it's about medical examiners . . . The third edition of the Concise Science Dictionary (Oxford Paperbacks, $12.95) was published this year. It's meant for students, but science buffs will enjoy its straightforward definitions . . . After swimming up on a sea slug _ I'm told it was a sea hare _ off Clearwater Beach recently, I wanted to know more. One good place is the Slug Site ( Make sure you visit the Web site's colorful photos of the Nudibranch of the Week (not as obscene as it sounds. Nudibranches is a more proper name for sea slugs).

Compiled from wire reports and other sources. Contact John A. Cutter at the Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Fax: (813) 892-2327; e-mail: