The Athlete: Is too much exercise more than your heart can handle?headingContent

Posted on September 19, 2014

male baseball runner near base looking to run to the next baseWhether you’re the star quarterback of an NFL team, an Olympic gold medalist in swimming, a local high school baseball star, or just a weekend warrior, you may have suffered from heart palpitations. No, not the kind that make your palms sweaty before a big race, but one that can literally make your heart pound right out of your chest and cause you to even pass out!

Athletes have always been somewhat perplexing to doctors. They aren’t your traditional patients. They eat right, they live healthy lifestyles and of course, they exercise regularly- sometimes obsessively. Should be a doctor’s dream come true, right? A patient who listens to their doctor’s prescription and follows their advice on healthy eating and exercising – sometimes even better than the Doctor does himself!

The media has also fueled our emotions when it comes to the sudden, and unexpected death of a young athlete in their prime. Whether it’s someone famous, or a local star, we’re stunned when we learn that bad things can happen to good, seemingly healthy people.

The effects of intense exercise are well documented, and there are so many positive things that come from a healthy exercise routine. For one, it’s not uncommon to see the heart rate slow, especially at rest or during sleep, which is a desirable affect in trained athletes. But it’s the unexpected issues that arise which can quickly derail a promising career or, for the recreational athlete, impede performance.

Many athletes can develop tachyarrhythmia, or fast rhythm problems of the heart. Conditions like atrial fibrillation, ventricular tachycardia, SVT, PAC or PVCs – sometimes known as “skipped beats” – can develop. Unlike a slow heart rate, they can bring a competitive athlete’s ability to perform to a screeching halt.

Unlike traditional patients, medical therapy can blunt their peak performance making their ability to push themselves during sports an impossible ordeal. The solutions for athletes are just not the same as they are for the general population. Many famous athletes, both past and present, have had to deal with these electrical short circuits of the heart and have had to contend with how to deal with them. Medications provide, at best, mediocre solutions for them. However, current medical advances now allow trained doctors, called electrophysiologists, who specialize in heart rhythm disorders, the ability to cure many of these issues. This allows athletes the ability to compete at the level they’re accustomed to, and return to their normal lives as superstars and weekend warriors.