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Fears over heart impact of endurance exercise

Wednesday December 7th, 2011

Intense endurance training may have damaging effects on the hearts of healthy people, researchers are warning.

Dr Andre La Gerche of the University of Melbourne, Australia, and colleagues say that endurance training may be linked with dangerous changes in the ventricles of the heart. They investigated whether the right ventricle is affected more than the left ventricle.

They gathered information on 40 well-trained athletes who undertook an endurance race of three to 11 hours. All were in training for events such as marathons, triathlons, and alpine cycling.

In most of the athletes, any damage was reversed within a week, but in five of them (13 per cent), there was evidence on magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of permanent damage to the heart muscle, known as fibrosis. The athletes who were worst affected tended to have been competing longer.

Full details are published today (December 7) in the European Heart Journal. The authors conclude: "Intense endurance exercise causes acute dysfunction of the right ventricle, but not the left ventricle. Although short-term recovery appears complete, chronic structural changes and reduced right ventricle function are evident in some of the most practiced athletes, the long-term clinical significance of which warrants further study."

Dr La Gerche said: "It is most important that our findings are not over-extrapolated to infer that endurance exercise is unhealthy. Our data do not support this premise."

Doireann Maddock of the British Heart Foundation commented: "The findings from this very small study are interesting; however, it is much too early to draw any firm conclusions.

"Any endurance athletes who are concerned should discuss the matter with their GP."

Exercise induced right ventricular dysfunction and structural remodelling in endurance athletes. La Gerche, L. et al. The European Heart Journal December 7 2011 DOI:10.1093/eurheartj/ehr397

Tags: Australia | Fitness | Heart Health | UK News

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