Doctors underestimate the severity of irregular heartbeats in athletes because patients are tested while resting instead of when they are doing exercise, according to research by Associate Professor Andre La Gerche, Head of Sports Cardiology.
The study, published in the European Heart Journal in June 2015, built on previous research showing more strain is put on the right side of the heart during exercise. It concluded that doctors were missing signs of potentially fatal heart arrhythmias by conducting tests on the left side of the heart or while a patient was idle.
The researchers tested heart performance in 17 athletes with right ventricular arrhythmias, eight of whom had an implantable cardiac defibrillator in place to control the rhythm of their hearts, 10 healthy endurance athletes and seven non-athletes. Australian and Belgian researchers used a number of techniques including echocardiography and cardiac magnetic resonance imaging to monitor test subjects' heartbeat irregularities while the patient was active.
Researchers found that in the athletes with arrhythmias the right side of the heart was weak during exercise, it could not handle the increase in workload and problems were detected that were not apparent at rest.
This study has important implications for patient management when it comes to the cardiovascular health of athletes.