Active Adults Are Being Misdiagnosed With Heart Disease

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The strain of modern living is having a negative effect on our cardiac health. Heart disease in the U.S. is now being directly linked to contemporary stress with younger people having more heart attacks than ever before. The issue of heart health is serious, but for those individuals who are careful about what they eat and enjoy a regular exercise regimen, those matters have typically been less of a cause for concern. However new research from the MRC Clinical Services Centre at Imperial College London suggests that athletic adults may be at risk of a heart disease diagnosis.

In a new study published in Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging, researchers found that those who engage in physical activity, and put more demands on the body, may have a bigger heart. An enlarged heart – also known as athlete’s heart – is non-fatal but it can display the same symptoms as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a heart attack. The study asked 1000 participants about their physical activities over the last year, and asked them to choose from one of four categories to determine how many hours of exercise they did every week. Findings showed that one third of participants reported 3-5 hours of exercise per week, and 1 in 5 of these individuals developed an enlarged heart as a result.

Nearly half of the participants who reported completing more than 5 hours of exercise per week also showed the same heart changes.

“It’s well known that the hearts of endurance athletes adapt in response to exercise, a phenomenon called ‘athlete’s heart.’ This study is the first to show that healthy adults who do regular exercise may also develop enlarged hearts. As a result, there’s a risk that some active adults could be misdiagnosed with heart disease,” says one of the lead research scientists Declan O’Regan, of the MRC Clinical Sciences Centre.  

“Going to the gym frequently increases the thickness of your heart muscle and the volume of your heart chambers, particularly the right ventricle. It’s a completely normal, healthy response. It shouldn’t be misdiagnosed as being heart disease,” he adds.

The researchers conclude that doctors should take into consideration a person’s weekly physical activities before diagnosing common heart complaints.

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