Skip to content

Heart Disease Health Center

Abnormal EKG Risky for Some Athletes

In Rare Cases, Abnormal Electrocardiogram May Be Early Warning Sign of Structural Heart Problem
Font Size
A
A
A
By
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 9, 2008 -- Abnormal results from electrocardiograms (EKGs) may be an early warning sign of rare heart problems in some athletes.

Italian researchers report that news in The New England Journal of Medicine.

Most athletes have strong, healthy hearts. But some have genetic, structural heart problems that can be fatal, even though the athlete has no symptoms.

Doctors from Italy's National Olympic Committee have been studying athletes' EKGs, searching for clues about those heart problems, which are called cardiomyopathies.

More than 12,000 young, elite Italian athletes got EKGs between 1979 and 2001. They were followed for nine years, on average.

During that time, 81 athletes had abnormal EKGs with no signs of structural heart problems at the time of the EKG. Only five of them developed cardiomyopathies, including one who died while training despite orders not to train or compete because of heart risks.

For comparison, no cases of cardiomyopathy developed among 229 top-notch Italian athletes who had normal EKGs during the study period.

Athletes with abnormal EKGs may need "greater diagnostic scrutiny and continued clinical surveillance," write Antonio Pelliccio, MD, and colleagues.

They add that a normal EKG "can be regarded as reasonably reliable evidence to exclude the presence of potentially lethal cardiac disease and can serve as a source of reassurance to young athletes."

Today on WebMD

x-ray of human heart
A visual guide.
atrial fibrillation
Symptoms and causes.
 
heart rate graph
10 things to never do.
heart rate
Get the facts.
 
empty football helmet
Article
red wine
Video
 
eating blueberries
Article
Simple Steps to Lower Cholesterol
Slideshow
 
Inside A Heart Attack
SLIDESHOW
Omega 3 Sources
SLIDESHOW
 
Salt Shockers
SLIDESHOW
lowering blood pressure
SLIDESHOW