What Should an Athlete Know About Heart Disease?

sprinter in starting blocks

The heart is capable of beating 100,000 times a day along with pumping 2,000+ gallons of oxygen-rich blood throughout your body. However, over time our personal lifestyle changes our heart’s capabilities. More specifically, an athlete’s body is more apt to becoming more efficient. That’s why athletes are prone to developing subtle changes in the development in the heart. But first, let’s look into the benefits of exercise on the heart in the average person. 

Exercise has a fairly wide definition in the status quo. As defined by Kaiser Permanente, exercise is any activity that is vigorous to raise your heart rate. Surely, exercise is daunting because it’s definitely difficult to find time in our days to work, eat, relax, and exercise. Fortunately, however, 30 minutes of exercise is enough to keep a heart healthy and efficient while lowering the chance of getting heart disease. Additionally, regular exercise has the benefits listed below:

  • Keeps your weight down.
  • Improves your mood.
  • Lowers your risk for some types of cancer.
  • Improves your balance.
  • Reduces your risk of osteoporosis by increasing your bone mass.
  • Gives you more energy.
  • Helps you sleep better.

In comparison, an athlete’s heart is even more efficient. An intense athletic training regime places the heart under stressful conditions which train the heart to become more efficient in pumping blood. The training of the heart can lead to, “small increases in size both of the pumping chamber (ventricle) and filling chamber (atrium), as well as proportionate small increases in the thickness of the heart muscle” as noted by Stanford Health Care. Undoubtedly, exercise offers immense benefits to not only our heart but the rest of our body. But let’s now delve deeper into what heart disease means for an athlete.

There are several types of heart diseases that impact the different parts of the heart. One of the most common cause of death in an athlete happens to be hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). HCM is an inherited trait that created thickened muscle walls which have the potential to disrupt the heart’s electrical system. Athletes with HCM may have a history of syncope (fainting), palpitations (racing feeling in chest) and a family history of sudden cardiac death. These symptoms should not be taken lightly as the consequences can be devastating.

With this in mind, there are two key take-aways for athletes concerned about heart disease. The first being that heart disease is very uncommon in young men and women, including athletes. Unfortunately, whether you’re an athlete or not, the probability of heart disease significantly rises as we get older, especially after age 65 (The American Heart Association). In addition to age, a patient’s personal and/or family history of diabetes, hypertension, hyperlipidemia, and tobacco also play influential roles in the development of heart disease. The second is screening. Methodical screening should be considered for an athlete. Some initial screenings include: patient history, physical examination, and electrocardiogram tests.

When an athlete has symptoms (such as chest pain, shortness of breath out of proportion to exercise, dizziness/passing out, or palpitations) or any abnormalities on electrocardiogram, cardiovascular evaluation is reasonable. Further tests such as an echocardiogram (simple ultrasound of the heart), treadmill test, and heart monitor will better allow the physician and athlete to feel comfortable in their exercise. These key takeaways indicate that with proper precautions and limited testing, there may little to worry about in relation to heart disease in an athlete. We all hear of stories of athletes collapsing and dying at young age. Almost all of these cases are preventable!!

If you are an athlete and have any symptoms or concerns, our providers at Modern Heart and Vascular can be your cardiovascular partners to give you the peace of mind and clearance for sports.

This article does not provide medical advice. It is intended for informational purposes only. It is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. If you need cardiovascular care, please call us at 832-644-8930. 

You Might Also Enjoy...

Best Foods to Prevent Heart Disease

The Best Foods to Prevent Heart Disease

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States and is responsible for nearly one-third of all deaths worldwide.  Luckily, you can prevent and combat the effects of heart disease in many ways, starting with balancing a healthy and nutrient-rich diet with an active lifestyle. Saying you want to start eating healthier…
Tips for Lowering Your Blood Pressure

Tips for Lowering Your Blood Pressure

Finding out you have high blood pressure can be scary. With high blood pressure, otherwise known as hypertension, you often don’t experience any physical symptoms right away. In some instances, it can slowly develop and be years before you see the physical effects. Although you don’t notice the effects of high blood pressure right away,…
Top 11 Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure

Top 11 Risk Factors for Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure occurs when your heart weakens, preventing it from performing its vital duty of transporting sufficient blood and oxygen to your body’s organs.  With CHF, fluid builds up around the heart, hindering its ability to pump blood correctly. Fluid buildup can leak from capillary blood vessels into the body’s lungs, tissues and organs.…
Symptoms of Poor Circulation in Your Body

Symptoms of Poor Circulation in Your Body

Poor circulation is a common feeling that affects millions of people every year. It can range from something as benign as your leg falling asleep after sitting for a long time to something life-threatening, such as a blood clot. The body’s circulation system sends blood and oxygen throughout your entire body. Poor circulation occurs when…
Early Warning Signs of a Stroke

Early Warning Signs of a Stroke

The brain is a complex organ that controls various bodily functions and processes. When a stroke happens, permanent damage can occur within the brain. This damage can result in long-term complications that can negatively impact a person’s speech and mobility. Understanding the early warning signs of a stroke can allow you to seek immediate medical…
10 Myths About Varicose Veins

10 Myths About Varicose Veins

Your body is an incredibly complex machine. From running to standing to sitting to even swimming, your body is pumping a lot of blood through your veins. A series of valves helps continuously move blood throughout the body in conjunction with various muscles. But if these valves begin to weaken, the blood pressure in the…