Journal scan

Screening of Olympic athletes reveals significant cardiovascular abnormalities

An extensive study of elite athletes has found a surprisingly high prevalence of cardiovascular abnormalities.

Picture credit: Alamy

Researchers assessed the cardiovascular health of 2,354 athletes (1,435 male, 919 females, mean age 27.6 years) as part of their screening to compete in the Olympic Games from 2004 onwards. The screening tests took place between 2002 and 2014. Tests included a physical examination, 12-lead and exercise ECG, and echocardiography. Twenty-four hour ECG monitoring was given selectively to confirm earlier diagnoses.

Unexpectedly, 171 of the 2,354 athletes (7.3%) had some form of cardiovascular abnormality, either structural or electrophysiological (causing a heart rhythm problem). Six of the affected athletes had a life-threatening abnormality and were disqualified from competition. A further 24 were eventually allowed to take part in the Games under close medical surveillance.

Study lead Paulo Emilio Adami from the Institute of Sport Medicine and Science of the Italian Olympic Committee in Rome, said it was ‘surprising’ that Olympic athletes ‘should have such significant abnormalities’. He called for the study’s extensive screening model to be applied to all elite athletes.

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