Heart, brain tests for NRL players: report

For the first time, all players will reportedly undergo a heart scan next NRL season before they take the field.

Fairfax Media is reporting NRL and under-20s players will undergo electrocardiogram (ECG) screening ahead of the opening round, in a move funded by the governing body. Players might also undergo MRI scans in the pre-season and will be retested if they suffer a concussion as a way of tracking any brain damage.

Club doctors and the NRL’s chief medical officer Paul Bloomfield met for five hours on Saturday at league headquarters, with topics including concussion and prescription drugs being discussed.

The ECG screenings will cost the NRL about $32,000 and the proposal will go to the Australian Rugby League Commission soon for final approval.

A spokesman for the NRL confirmed plans to test the players for the rare disease.

“There is a very small percentage of people throughout the community who have an undiagnosed, pre-existing risk of sudden cardiac death. While it is a very rare event, it is tragic for everyone concerned, particularly family and teammates, if someone dies from this condition.

“This screening will help diagnose cardiac conditions which may put players at risk so appropriate treatment can be provided. Often the condition can be successfully treated and the player can return to sport.

“Around 80 per cent of cases involve people who had no prior symptoms, so we think it makes sense to take this precautionary step before the 2016 season starts.”

Concussion dominated much of the discussion among the clubs’ doctors. Debate surrounded the possibility of tracking the impact of concussions on a player’s brain by having multiple MRI brain scans.

A NRL spokesman said this was in the “very early proposal stage”.

“A provider may be invited to put forward a proposal to undertake a research study of players to monitor any impact of concussions. Players could undergo an MRI scan (during the) pre-season and it would be compared with MRIs later in the season to see if there is any change. This would be a research study but is only in the proposal stage.”

There were discussions to extend the minimum rest period a player must have when concussed from five to 10 minutes and push the concussion assessment from 15 to 20 minutes. However, it was voted overwhelmingly for the current guidelines to be maintained.

The NRL is also considering an alternative to the SCAT 3 concussion test by designing a rugby league specific examination. Doctors will also have the use of the sky camera view for the first time throughout the season during matches.

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