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Athletes face 'more than double the risk' of atrial fibrillation

Tuesday July 13th 2021

Athletes are almost two and a half times more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than non-athletes, British researchers warn today.

The study, led by a team from Canterbury Christ Church University in Canterbury, UK, also discovered that athletes involved in mixed sports such as football, rugby or netball have the highest risk compared with athletes taking part in endurance sports such as Nordic skiing, orienteering or rowing.

Writing in the latest edition of British Journal of Sports Medicine, published today, the researchers say their review suggests that although physical activity can improve cardiovascular health there is a threshold beyond which exposure to increasing levels of exercise is linked to heart issues.

They reviewed and analysed 13 studies, published between 1990 and December 2020, that had examined athletes who took part in sports such as cycling, running, swimming, Nordic skiing, orienteering, rowing, football, rugby, and netball.

The 13 studies included data on a total of 70,478 participants, of whom 63,662 were controls and 6,816 athletes.

The authors found that the risk of atrial fibrillation was 2.46 times higher among athletes than non-athletes.

When the studies were split into those that involved participants with and without cardiovascular disease risk factors, there was no significant difference in the relative risk of atrial fibrillation in athletes and non-athletes with these risk factors.

However, when they looked at athletes and non-athletes without cardiovascular disease risk factors, athletes had a 3.7 times higher risk of atrial fibrillation than non-athletes.

Younger athletes, aged under 55 years, had a 3.6 times higher risk than those older than 55.

Although the authors say the study had some limitations, including limited data on female athletes, they write: “Athletes have a significantly greater likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation compared with non-athlete controls.

“Younger aged athletes have a greater relative risk of atrial fibrillation compared with older athletes; however, exercise dose parameters, including training and competition history, as well as potential gender differences for the risk of atrial fibrillation requires future research.”

Newman W, Parry-Williams G, Wiles J et al. Risk of atrial fibrillation in athletes: a systematic review and meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine 13 July 2021; doi 10.1136/bjsports-2021-103994


Tags: Australia | Fitness | Heart Health | UK News

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