Thursday, January 25, 2007

Research Seeks Clues to Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes

(HealthDay News) -- Most endurance athletes with an irregular heartbeat called ventricular arrhythmia have dysfunction in their heart's right ventricle, European researchers report.

Ventricular arrhythmia is a condition in which the heart beats at an abnormal rate and rhythm, sometimes resulting in sudden death in otherwise healthy athletes. There are many underlying causes to the condition, which is often due to inherited problems, according to background information in the article.

Previous research has found that in endurance athletes with ventricular arrhythmias (such as runners and cyclists), the condition is often the result of a problem in the heart's right ventricle. Ventricles are those chambers of the heart that pump blood back out to the body.

In this study, Belgian researchers at the University of Leuven examined 22 endurance athletes with ventricular arrhythmia and compared them to 15 endurance athletes without the condition, as well as to a control group of non-athletes without ventricular arrhythmia.
The researchers concluded that the right ventricle was the definite or probable source of the defect in 82 percent of the athletes with the condition.

Endurance exercise itself may contribute to ventricular arrhythmia, the study authors suggested.

"The hypothesis that high-level endurance exercise is an underlying cause of the ventricular arrhythmia is supported by other studies," study team leader Hein Heidbuchel, professor of cardiology/electrophysiology, said in a prepared statement.

However, Heidbuchel added that ventricular arrhythmias aren't common, and endurance athletes don't need to worry about them too much.

"But they need to be vigilant and honest with themselves: If they have a family history of arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC), arrhythmias, sudden death or other heart complaints, or if they have experienced exercise-induced light-headedness, palpitations or fainting, then they should see their doctor for an evaluation," Heidbuchel said.

More information
The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about arrhythmia.

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