News Release

August 28, 2007

Contact: Christopher DeFrancesco, 860-679-3914

Make Sure They Have the Heart for It

UConn Cardiologist: Young Athletes Need Doc’s OK to Play

FARMINGTON, CONN. – Compared to the average person, a well-conditioned athlete has a heart that operates more efficiently and is better equipped to handle the rigors of physical activity. It’s part of what makes it so shocking when an athlete – particularly a young athlete – collapses on a playing field with a severe heart defect.

“The arrival of the fall sports season is a good time for parents to make sure of a few things,” says cardiologist Peter Schulman, M.D., of the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center at the University of Connecticut Health Center. “While screenings are mandatory for most youth sports programs, it is imperative that parents make sure their sons and daughters have medical clearance before starting any athletic activity.”

Schulman’s other message for parents is, once cleared, children should know to speak up immediately if they become dizzy, feel faint or are otherwise physically overcome by a practice or workout session.

“The heart condition that causes the most deaths in adolescent and young adult athletes is a heart muscle abnormality called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, or HCM,” Schulman says. “Some types of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy can be detected by physical examination, but some cannot be. It makes the headlines because the people are athletic, they’re well-trained, they’re in excellent health, they’re thin, they’re good-looking, some of them are famous.”

While current screening methods are not 100 percent effective in detecting HCM, screening can reveal useful information. All UConn student-athletes undergo physical exams every year. Schulman assisted with the screening of nearly 200 athletes in Storrs Sunday, Aug. 26, to determine who can participate in full activity.

While the search for more reliable detection methods is ongoing, another characteristic of the athlete’s heart offers promise. Some abnormalities that would be potentially devastating to those who aren’t athletic are considered normal in well-conditioned athletes.

“It’s not unusual at all for elite athletes to have a very slow heart rate, for example, even heart murmurs, abnormal electrocardiograms, or electrical conduction block, which can be a sign of really bad things in an older person,” Schulman says. “It all has to do with the physiology of the heart.”

Physical examination and analysis of family history are still the cardiologist’s most effective screening tools, and will continue to be until science uncovers better ways to detect occult heart defects.

More information about the Pat and Jim Calhoun Cardiology Center is available at The phone number for appointments is 860-679-3343.

UConn Health includes the schools of medicine and dental medicine, the UConn Medical Group, University Dentists, and John Dempsey Hospital. Home to Bioscience Connecticut, UConn Health pursues a mission of providing outstanding health care education in an environment of exemplary patient care, research and public service. More information about UConn Health is available at

Note: News professionals are invited to visit the UConn Health Today news page ( for regularly updated news and feature stories, photos and media stories. News releases are archived at UConn Health news and information is also available on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.