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Heart Disease Health Center

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Enlarged Heart Rare in Top Athletes

Study Shows Few Cases of Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy in Elite Athletes
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

March 5, 2008 -- A certain type of enlarged heart may be rare in elite athletes, a new study shows.

The study included 3,500 elite British athletes (average age: 20) who were screened from 1996 to 2006.

Only three of the athletes had possible signs of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, in which heart muscle becomes dangerously thick. One of those athletes agreed to cut back on training, which improved his heart's size. The other two refused to trim their training, but other tests failed to confirm that they have hypertrophic cardiomyopathy.

"Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is considered to be the most common cause of exercise-related sudden death in young athletes," write the researchers. But they don't recommend echocardiograms, which are tests that check how well the heart pumps blood, for all elite athletes.

Thousands of top athletes would need to be screened to find one with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, according to the researchers, who included Sandeep Basavarajaiah, MBBS, MRCP, of King's College Hospital in London.

But not everyone agrees.

In an editorial published with the study, German doctors support routine screening -- including echocardiography -- for professional athletes.

"We strongly believe that the heart and circulatory system of the competing athlete deserve the same level of awareness and attention that has been directed toward the musculoskeletal system for decades," write the editorialists.

They included Lothar Faber, MD, FESC, FACC, of the cardiology department at Germany's Ruhr University Bochum.

The study and editorial appear in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

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