Cardiac considerations in the triathlete.
The cardiac adaptation to exercise training produces a variety of adaptations in cardiac size, shape, and function. To further define these changes and to investigate the effects of maximal conditioning, we studied ultraendurance triathletes training for the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon using echocardiography, Doppler ultrasound, and electrocardiography. In this population, the left ventricle (LV) was of normal size but had increased wall thickness and mass. Systolic function was normal and diastolic function was normal or supernormal (increased ratio of rapid to atrial LV filling velocities). The finding of a pattern of concentric hypertrophy was reinforced by a close relationship between submaximal exercise systolic blood pressure and LV mass (r = 0.88). Examination of valvular function by Doppler ultrasound revealed significantly increased prevalences of mitral and tricuspid regurgitation in athletes, with 91% of athletes (vs 38% of controls) having regurgitation detected in at least one cardiac valve. Analysis of athletes using standard electrocardiographic criteria for the detection of left ventricular hypertrophy showed that these criteria did not reliably detect increased mass. However, changes such as marked QRS prolongation and nonvoltage criteria for LV hypertrophy and RV hypertrophy may be useful in separating physiologic from pathologic hypertrophy. Our studies provide additional descriptions of cardiac changes produced by ultraendurance exercise training and suggest that the hemodynamic load imposed by exercise may be a contributing cause to physiologic hypertrophy. Much yet remains to be learned about the cardiac adaptation to exercise training.
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