Athlete heart syndrome

Athlete heart syndrome

Athlete Heart Syndrome is a medical condition that occurs when athletes have enlarged hearts and lower resting pulse rates than that of a non-athlete. This condition is, in most cases, not harmful to the athlete and often shows no symptoms or signs. Athlete’s Heart is difficult to diagnose, since medical tests such as an electrocardiogram (ECG) can easily point to a serious heart disease by mistake.Woolston, Chris. “Ills & Conditions – Athletic Heart Syndrome”. CVS Caremark Health Information. 17 January 2007.]

Athlete’s Heart is a result of athlete’s engaging in dynamic physical activity such as aerobic training or tennis, rather than static training such as weight lifting. Since the body is using smaller muscle groups under extreme resistance for long periods of time, the heart adapts and adjusts to these strenuous oxygen and blood demands by enlarging. This enlargement allows the heart to have to beat less to pump out the same or a greater amount of blood to surrounding tissues used in exercise.Heart Diseases”. Matters of the Heart. 22 April 2005. ticle_id=dhm]

Athlete’s Heart is not dangerous, but if someone is experiencing any symptoms it is critical to see a health care practitioner, so as to not overlook a hidden heart illness.

Symptoms and Signs

Athlete's Heart most often does not have any physical symptoms. In most cases, athletes do not realize they even have the syndrome until they go for their annual physical examination. The reason behind the mystery as to why there often are no symptoms when one’s heart is physically enlarged is because Athlete’s Heart is an adaptation of the body to the stresses of physical conditioning and aerobic exercise. When one is diagnosed with Athlete’s Heart, there are usually three characteristics that accompany the condition that would indicate a heart condition if they were seen in a non-athlete: bradycardia, cardiomegaly, and cardiac hypertrophy. Bradycardia is a slower than normal heartbeat around 46-60 beats per minute. Cardiomegaly is the state of an enlarged heart. Cardiac hypertrophy is the thickening of the muscular wall of the heart, specifically the left ventricle, which pumps oxygenated blood to the aorta. In highly trained athletes' bodies, more blood and oxygen is required to the peripheral tissues of the arms and legs. A larger heart results in higher cardiac output, or, in other words, more blood is being pumped out with each beat. With high cardiac output, the heart can allow itself to beat less, thus the bradycardia occurs.


When a heart is enlarged due to the demands of high physical activity, its entire chemistry, including the electrical signals that conduct heart activity, adjusts. These electrical signals compose the electrical conduction system of the heart that control heart beat and can be monitored by an ECG. The results of an ECG will point to a heart illness and can only be deciphered to be Athlete’s Heart through careful examination by a health care practitioner. The exam will commonly reveal normal systolic and diastolic functions but will see left ventricular wall thickening. Another way to diagnose Athlete’s Heart is by a chest x-ray, which may show the increased size.Athletic Heart Syndrome”. Cardiovascular Medicine Chapter. 27 January 2008.]


Athlete’s Heart is not dangerous for athletes; it is when a non-athlete has the symptoms of bradycardia, cardiomegaly, and cardiac hypertrophy that another possible illness is present. It is very important not to confuse Athlete’s Heart with the reason that some athletes have Sudden Unexpected Death (SUD) during or shortly after a workout. In many cases there are no signs that an athlete will experience SUD, but it is always due to an underlying heart disease and not Athlete’s Heart.


Athlete’s Heart does not pose any physical threats to the athlete. There have been no negative long term effects of Athlete’s Heart. It is recommended that the athlete see a physician and receive a clearance to be sure that it is in fact Athlete’s Heart and not another heart disease. If the athlete is uncomfortable with having Athlete’s Heart, it is typically treated by deconditioning the athlete from exercise for a period of three months. During this time, the heart will return to its regular size. This deconditioning is usually met with resistance since it is changing the athlete’s lifestyle. The only risky aspect of Athlete’s Heart is if an athlete or non-athlete simply assumes that they have the condition, instead of making sure it is not a life-threatening heart illness.Athletic Heart Syndrome”. The Merck Manuals Online Medical Library. November 2005.]


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