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Clinical Significance of Cardiac Damage and Changes in Function after Exercise


Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise: August 2008 - Volume 40 - Issue 8 - p 1416-1423
doi: 10.1249/MSS.0b013e318172cefd
CLINICAL SCIENCES: Symposium: Exercise and the Heart

Acute bouts of ultraendurance exercise may result in the appearance of biomarkers of cardiac cell damage and a transient reduction in left ventricular function. The clinical significance of these changes is not fully understood. There seems to be two competing issues to be resolved. First, could prolonged endurance exercise produce a degree of cardiac stress and/or damage that results, during the short or long term, in deleterious consequences for cardiac health. Second, there is a clear need to educate those responsible for the medical care of endurance athletes about the possibility of a transient reduction in cardiac function and the appearance of cTnT/cTnI after an exercise. Minor elevations in cardiac troponins are commonplace after an endurance exercise in elite and recreational athletes and may occur alongside exercise-associated collapse. Misdiagnosis of myocardial injury and subsequent mismanagement can be unnecessarily expensive and psychologically damaging to the athlete. Diagnosis of myocardial injury after prolonged exercise should be made on the basis of all available information and not blood tests alone. The clinical significance of chronic exposure to endurance exercise is unknown. The development of myocardial fibrosis has been suggested as a long-term outcome to chronic exposure to repetitive bouts of endurance exercise and has been linked to an exercise-induced inflammatory process observed in an animal model. This hypothesis is supported by a limited number of studies reporting postmortem studies in athletes and an increased prevalence of complex arrhythmia in veteran athletes. Care is warranted in promoting this hypothesis without further detailed work, given the unequivocal link between exercise and mortality and morbidity. It would seem erroneous, however, to assume that a linear relationship exists between exercise volume and cardiac health.

Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, UNITED KINGDOM

Address for correspondence: Gregory P. Whyte, Ph.D., FACSM, Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Science, Liverpool John Moores University, Liverpool, L3 2ET, United Kingdom; E-mail:

Submitted for publication December 2007.

Accepted for publication March 2008.

©2008The American College of Sports Medicine