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Elite athletes with heart defect face minimal risks, study finds

A study followed 78 top athletes for seven years to determine whether they faced any adverse effects from their condition.
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Posted at 3:01 PM, Mar 07, 2023

A study presented this week at the American College of Cardiology's Annual Scientific Session claims elite athletes with heart defects face few risks. 

The study claimed to be the first to examine potentially life-threatening arrhythmias among NCAA Division I and professional athletes. The study included those with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) and long QT syndrome. 

The researchers say these conditions don’t make it unsafe for them to play sports. 

"This initial data set offers a story of hope and encouragement," Katherine A. Martinez, who conducted the study as an intern, said. "With shared decision-making and appropriate risk stratification by an expert, we expect anybody of any age can live and thrive despite their diagnosis."

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The study followed 76 athletes with a genetic heart condition. Of those, three experienced a non-lethal cardiac episode related to their genetic heart disease within seven years, the study stated. 

Researchers said three quarters of the athletes were initially disqualified from playing, but later cleared. 

"The guidelines used to be that unless your heart is perfect, you can't do anything, but these results suggest that we should change that message," Michael Ackerman, a genetic cardiologist at Mayo Clinic, said in a release. "[Clinicians] should be encouraging most of our patients to exercise. It's not 'can you play or not,' but it's 'let's figure out an exercise plan for you.'"

The authors noted that having emergency action plans and proper medical devices can help mitigate the risk.