Screening is a process of identifying disease or medical conditions in apparently healthy people. They can then be offered information, further tests and appropriate treatment to reduce their risk and any complications arising from the disease or condition.
In the UK we currently routinely screen for breast and cervical cancer, eye problems in patients with diabetes and abdominal aneurysms. A useful guide to screening is available in the NHS is available here: http://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/Screening/Pages/screening.aspx
The purpose of heart screening is to detect heart abnormalities early. This means that treatments can be given and interventions made in people whose heart abnormalities would have otherwise gone undetected. Early diagnosis means potential lives saved.
Heart screening has been compulsory in all teenagers and adults competing in athletic sports in Italy since 1982. Many other European countries offer similar cardiac screening programmes including France, Greece, Spain, Luxembourg, Sweden, Norway, Germany and Poland. Professional bodies such as FIFA and the International Olympic Committee recommend cardiac screening for all their sportsmen and women. The American Heart Association and European Society of Cardiology have prepared guidelines to facilitate this.
In the UK, all adults over the age of 40 are encouraged to attend for a vascular risk check. As yet, however, screening for other types of heart disease is largely unfunded in the NHS and is provided by charities such as Cardiac Risk in the Young (CRY) and by private companies such as Heart for Life.
All screening tests have the potential to cause harm as they carry a risk of false results:
- A false negative result is when a person who does have the condition is put into the group of people who have a lower chance of having the condition. False negatives can provide false reassurance.
- A false positive is when a person who does not have the condition is put into the group of people who have an increased chance of having the condition. False positives can result in increased anxiety and referral for additional diagnostic tests.
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