Identification of silent cardiovascular diseases by preparticipation evaluation (PPE) and disqualification from competitive sports have the potential to prevent sudden death but may induce adverse psychological consequences, particularly for exercise addicted athletes. We investigated the relationship between exercise addiction, attitude towards PPE and reaction to cardiovascular disease diagnosis.
We invited Italian competitive athletes to participate in an online questionnaire investigating exercise addiction, opinion about mandatory PPE and potential reaction to both sports disqualification and hypothetical diagnosis of different cardiovascular diseases.
The survey was completed by 1011 athletes (75% men, median age 30 years) encompassing a wide range of sports disciplines and competition levels. According to the ‘Exercise Dependence Scale-21’, 6% were classified as exercise addicted. The vast majority of both exercise addicted and nonexercise addicted athletes agreed that PPE should be mandatory (92 and 96%, P = 0.17) and that the eligibility decision should be left to the sports medicine physician (82 and 89%, P = 0.08). In case a cardiovascular disease is identified, a higher proportion of exercise addicted athletes would undergo ‘open-heart’ surgery if this would allow resuming high-intensity sport (54 versus 31%, P < 0.001) and would continue exercising in case of diagnosis of a disease at risk of sudden death (57 versus 32%, P < 0.001).
Exercise addiction does not interfere with a general positive opinion about PPE, but is likely to impact on the adherence to medical prescription should a cardiovascular diagnosis be made. Exercise addiction should be taken into account when counselling athletes with newly diagnosed heart diseases.