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Heart Disease Health Center

Heart Rate Reveals Risk of Sudden Death

Test May Show Heart-Rate Abnormalities in Seemingly Healthy Men
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WebMD Health News

May 11, 2005 -- A man's risk of sudden death may show up in a simple exercise test, say French doctors.

Ten minutes or less of pedaling on a stationary bike was all it took, they report in The New England Journal of Medicine.

The danger signs were clear in hindsight. When the test was done, the men were apparently healthy, say Xavier Jouven, MD, and colleagues.

All the more reason not to take your heart for granted. Heart disease (which includes heart attacks) is a leading cause of death for men and women in the U.S.

French Findings

Jouven and colleagues followed more than 5,700 French men for 23 years. The exercise test was given at the study's start, when the men were 42 to 53 years old.

All of the men worked for the French government. Age, diabetes, smoking, cholesterol, and other risk factors were noted.

During the test, the men cycled for up to 10 minutes. Their heart rate was monitored before, during, and after exercise. If their heart rate got dangerously high, the test was stopped early.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, 81 men in the group had died suddenly.

Three findings stood out:

  • A heart rate of more than 75 beats per minute before exercise (resting heart rate)
  • An increase of less than 89 beats per minute during peak exercise performance
  • A decrease of less than 25 beats per minute after exercise

The normal range of resting heart rate can vary. The American Heart Association (AHA) says the normal range is 60-80 beats per minute.

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