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Cardiac MRI Observes Remodeling of the Heart in Competitive Athletes

Researchers from Germany tracked changes in cardiac morphology of long-distance runners and triathletes after five years of training

Meeri Kim, Contributor
Thursday, May 3, 2018


Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging can noninvasively assess the function and structure of a heart, and the technique is frequently used in patients with coronary heart disease, heart valve problems, or damage from a heart attack. However, as a new study shows, it can also be used to assess the changing morphology of a competitive athlete's heart.

Long-term intensive training is thought to induce several changes in an athlete's heart, such as an enlargement of the ventricles and atria. A team of researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany scanned 18 long-distance runners and triathletes with cardiac MRI to track this development in a longitudinal follow-up study that spanned five years. They published their results in the journal Acta Radiologica March 22.

At baseline, the subjects all had a history of intensive training with an average duration of 8.6 years. The average age of the athletes was 43 years old. The initial cardiac MRI at 1.5 T included both functional and late gadolinium enhancement imaging, which uses a contrast agent to asses the myocardium. Follow-up cardiac MRI took place roughly five years after the baseline time point. Imaging analysis was performed by two independent, blinded readers with experience in cardiac MRI.

Overall, the results support that ongoing remodeling of the heart does occur in competitive athletes, particularly on the right side of the organ. Left ventricular myocardial mass and right ventricular end-diastolic volume both significantly increased from baseline to follow-up. While left atrial size did not change, right atrial size also increased after five years of additional training.

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