Do you have an athlete’s heart?

I remember years back in university having to do stress tests and ecg’s on each other and this was where my little issue, that I never really knew was a major issue, first came to light. It’s funny because I have never actually been an endurance athlete. I could never “DO” cross country, never enjoyed long runs or the endurance type exercise for the most part. I always did have a tendency though to “HIT or HIIT” it up a bit too much and always had the ability to push hard right from the get-go of my fitness career. I have NEVER had an interest in triathalons, marathons or the like and never understood why anyone did for that matter:p. I have always also had low blood pressure, would be tired a LOT regardless, and always had a low pulse. I never really thought much of it as my professor said my left ventricular hypertrophy was fine it was just because I was an athlete. The doctor’s that had me wear a Holter and knew how I ate and that I worked out for many years, told me my atrial fibrillation was nothing to worry about. Well, I am getting ready yet again to go for a stress test in a couple of days as there was a total fluke when I went in to the emerge for a concussion and the nurse found the a-fib and wanted to pursue it (thank you to that amazing nurse for actually giving a fu$k!!) as the more I research and learn, look back as well as pay attention day to day, I find this just might be a lot more serious than they all, and I, thought.

I think I really started to pay attention over the past 2 years when I started noticing my overall fatigue and training capacity went down tremendously irregardless of nutrition, hydration or training alterations as well as while I was doing some research for an article after losing a friend unexpectedly

I also have been hearing of non-stop endurance athletes or people training for those psycho marathons and such just all of a sudden keeling over when they were deemed as very healthy. Here is a recent one to corroborate what I am saying: WOMEN I want YOU to listen up because these different heart problems are a lot more common than you might think and women are more prone to certain ones too like this:

I am not too sure about my family history on anything but I do remember hearing somewhere that there is a history of heart and circulatory problems and apparently a close relative has been told before that she has a murmur and she is always tired too. Okay so I can chalk their issues up to lifestyle factors but I am an athlete, not an endurance athlete either, who takes care of her body so what gives?  I really think that while maybe the fact that I have always had a very dang stressful life and that I may have over the years over done my intense training, I don’t doubt that there must be a genetic component. The funny thing is is that if you have ever seen me train, you would probably never guess any of the above but truth be told, it is simply my stubborn mentality that pushes me that hard not often my heart or muscles :p

I wanted to share this blog post with you below to understand that this is real. I wanted to write this post, because I want you to pay attention to your body, listen to your gut (or heart in this case) when you are being dismissed but you just know there is something more going on. I also want you to understand that sometimes heart conditions might not have any of the typical or common symptoms so keep track of how you feel and push, push, PUSH for answers. Please take care of you and REST, RECOVER AND REJUVENATE 🙂

Here is the blog post from Heart surgeon and avid triathlete.

Do you have “athlete’s heart”?

If you’re a well-trained endurance athlete, you probably do. And don’t even know it. But that’s okay, because “athlete’s heart” is generally a good thing. Here’s why….

We’ve known for more than a century that there are a variety of cardiac changes that are associated with exercise. As long ago as 1899, S. E. Henshen at the University of Uppsala Sweden published a report entitled, “A Study in Sports Medicine; Skiing and Competitive Skiing,” recognizing that skiers developed enlarged hearts that were a response to exercise. And we’ve learned a lot more during the past 100 years about the heart’s adaptation to exercise.

Today, we use the terms, “athlete’s heart” or “athlete’s heart syndrome” to refer to the entire collection of the heart’s physiological adaptations to exercise. Those adaptations come in 2 main forms: structural changes and electrical changes.

Structural changes

Over time, the well-trained athlete’s heart adapts in order to provide a high cardiac output (volume of blood pumped per unit of time) in the most efficient manner. Because of mechanical advantage (after all, the heart is only a pump), the heart adapts by increasing the volume of its chambers, decreasing its heart rate, and increasing the thickness of the heart’s muscular walls–particularly the ventricles (the pumping chambers).

Changes in the structure of the heart will not be the same for every athlete. These changes will be most pronounced for athletes who engage in the aerobic sports (running, swimming, cycling, rowing, etc.).

The thickness of the left ventricular wall is usually less than 1.3 cm in thickness, with many individuals having a thickness of 1.0 cm or so. Well-trained athletes may have a left ventricular wall thickness of up to 1.5 cm, again an adaptation that helps with the generation of additional cardiac output during exercise.

Electrical changes

Athletes can have a variety of electrical changes that show up on an ECG. The most common finding is a slow heart rate (that we call “bradycardia” when the heart rate is less than 60 beats per minute). You’ll know that you and your athletic friends may have a resting heart rate that is much less than even 60 beats per minute. Yet the medical profession arbitrarily calls 60 to 100 beats per minute “normal”….for most individuals. For the well-trained athlete, though, a heart rate less than 60 beats per minute is typical and simply reflects the efficiency that the heart has developed over time due to exercise.

There are many other findings that can be present on the athlete’s ECG, including sinus arrhythmia, wandering atrial pacemaker, first- and second-degree heart block, junctional rhythm, and various types of repolarization abnormalities. These terms will only be meaningful to a medical professional, but suffice it to say that, when we add up the frequencies of all of these findings, an athlete’s ECG is very often “abnormal.”

Physical examination

In addition to the structural and electrical changes, there can be changes in the physical examination, as well. Athletes are more likely than non-athletes to have murmurs or other heart sounds (heard by stethoscope) that are simply a manifestation of the structural and electrical changes mentioned above.

Why is this important?

I’ve said that all of these changes, or adpations, are a good thing. And they are! But here’s the problem….

Imagine this scenario. And it’s pretty typical. A 42-year-old man, an avid triathlete, crashes while cycling, fractures his clavicle, and requires operation for repair of the clavicle fracture. He gets an ECG before the operation to screen for any unrecognized heart problems….and behold, he has an abnormal ECG. His physicians overlook the fact that the “abnormal” ECG may be very “normal” for an endurance athlete….and they order a variety of (possibly unneeded) additional heart tests to look for any specific heart disease. And, in the end, they don’t find anything wrong.

It’s important for you and your physicians to remember that you’re an athlete and that you may have features of the “athlete’s heart syndrome.” The next time you’re at the doctor’s office and he or she is listening to your heart with a stethoscope, you might ask the doctor if there was a murmur. Mention that you’ve learned something about athlete’s heart syndrome and ask if any murmur might be due to that. You’ll impress your doctor….and you’ll be helping your doctor remember that athlete’s are special.

This another area where you can be as knowledgable (or perhaps more knowledgable) than your doctor. Take charge.

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