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What A Doctor Wants You To Know About Endurance Athletes And Heart Conditions

What a doctor wants you to know about endurance athletes and heart conditions

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Recently Ironman Dean Mercer tragically passed at just 47 years old after suffering a cardiac arrest, leaving behind wife Reen and four sons, all aged 13 years and under.

It seems deeply unfair that the endurance athlete’s heart failed, after dedicating decades to an active, healthy and fit lifestyle, but according to Dr Jason Kaplan, a cardiologist, who lists his clinical interests as Sports Cardiology, Integrative and Preventative Cardiology and cardiac imaging for minimally invasive cardiac procedures, sadly, this scenario is not uncommon.

“It’s thought that long term endurance athletes may have increased rates of calcification (or plaque) in their arteries, which predisposes them to a risk of having a heart attack,” says Dr Kaplan.

“While I don’t know what happened to Dean Mercer – a significant cardiac event can occur from blockages to the blood supply, life-threatening arrhythmia and pre-disposing genetic conditions – with long-term endurance athletes, we see cardiac events occur,” says Dr Kaplan, as the heart is pushed harder.

“For a lot of people – endurance athletes or otherwise – until they have their first heart attack or event, they might not get symptoms. For example, a small amount of plaque in the artery wouldn’t be picked up in a stress test. But that, combined with an endurance event, a pre-disposing condition, or a blood clot formed on the plaque, can cause a heart attack, and depending where in the heart – if it’s very close to the main artery, for example – can cause a fatal heart attack,” says Dr Kaplan, who urges any man over the age of 35, and any woman over 45, competing in endurance events to get themselves checked out before commencing training.

“There’s a lot of research at the moment about exactly how much exercise is enough – and how much exercise is too much – and there does appear to be a point where, if you do exercise too much and you’re an endurance athlete, you might start to cause damage to the heart,” says Dr Kaplan.

His key message?

“Out of this tragic event, if you fit the above criteria, it’s worthwhile getting checked out by your primary care doctor or perhaps even a cardiologist to make sure you’re safe to do these events.

“[There’s one] particular scan that’s widely available – a non-invasive cardiac CT scan, which can detect very early heart disease in patients, so they can be monitored and put on medication to prevent a heart attack, lower cholesterol and stop plaque build-ups,” says Dr Kaplan, who wants to make clear that the message here is not to stop exercising altogether.

“A person’s level of fitness in their middle age is directly correlated to longevity, so if someone isn’t able to do endurance training, they can opt for slightly less intense exercise. My advice would certainly not be to stop exercising. We know that exercise is strongly protective against cardiac events and just about every cardiac condition,” says Dr Kaplan, and that the best option for everyone is to keep on top of their health, however that might look for them.

“We take our cars to be serviced every year, and we need to think about doing that for our heart, too.”

Story Credit: http://www.bodyandsoul.com.au/health/health-news/what-a-doctor-wants-you-to-know-about-endurance-athletes-and-heart-conditions/news-story/b8844742d13593a8465cb0ab7c080f11