Current Cardiology Reports

, Volume 3, Issue 2, pp 147-151

Athlete’s heart electrocardiogram mimicking hypertrophic cardiomyopathy

  • Antonio PellicciaAffiliated withInstitute of Sport Science
  • , Barry J. MaronAffiliated withInstitute of Sport Science

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Highly trained athletes show a variety of electrocardiographic (ECG) changes, including a striking increase of R or S wave voltage, either flat or deeply inverted T waves, and deep Q waves, that suggest the presence of structural cardiovascular disease, such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy or arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy, which represent the most common causes of sudden death in young competitive athletes. Despite a number of previous observational surveys, the determinants and clinical significance of these abnormal ECG patterns in trained athletes are still uncertain. Therefore, ECG patterns were compared with cardiac morphology (by echocardiography) in a large population of 1005 athletes, who were engaged in a variety of 38 sporting disciplines. We found abnormal ECGs in 40% of our athletes, but structural cardiac diseases were identified in only 5%. In the absence of cardiac disease, other determinants were recognized as responsible for abnormal ECG patterns, including the extent of morphologic cardiac remodeling, participation in an endurance type of sport, and male gender. Finally, a small but important subset of athletes showed striking ECG abnormalities that strongly suggested the presence of cardiovascular disease in the absence of pathologic cardiac conditions or morphologic changes, suggesting that these ECG alterations may be the consequence of athletic conditioning itself.