This is a great article by Dr. Mirkin. I thought I'd share it, with his permission, to my very active clients, friends and family. A must read for EVERY athlete. Please read and share.
From: Dr. Mirkin's E-zine
Dr. Gabe Mirkin's Fitness and Health E-Zine
March 7, 2010
Atrial Fibrillation in Older Athletes
A study from Norway shows that 13 of 78 (16 percent)
older competitive cross country skiers have atrial fibrillation,
a condition in which the upper chambers of the heart flutter and
collect blood (European Journal of Cardiovascular Prevention &
Rehabilitation, February 2010). Blood that is not moving collects
in the upper chambers of the heart where it can form clots that
travel to the brain to block the flow of blood to cause a stroke.
Almost all people who suffer from atrial fibrillation at
any age are treated with drugs to prevent clotting, since they are
at increased risk for strokes and heart attacks. However, the
older endurance athletes are different from other people with
* The incidence of atrial fibrillation in these great older
endurance athletes is the same as for non-athletic Norwegian men
over 75. However, the skiers developed their atrial fibrillation
at the average age of 58, which is much younger than its occurrence
in the general population.
* People who suffer from atrial fibrillation usually have a history
of something damaging their hearts, such as high blood pressure,
high cholesterol, heart disease, heavy drinking or chronic
inflammation, but ten of the 13 skiers with atrial fibrillation
had none of these risk factors. The older endurance athletes have
the highest rate of fibrillation without any known cause in the
entire world's literature.
* The vast majority of endurance athletes live significantly
longer than average citizens.
Nobody has adequate data to show why athletes are at
increased risk for atrial fibrillation or whether they are at
increased risk for forming clots. My explanation is that life-long
endurance athletes have large healthy hearts that contain much more
heart muscle than nerves. This can interfere with the normal
sequence of an electrical impulse starting each heart beat from a
spot in the upper heart that causes the upper heart to contract.
This electrical messages then travels along nerves down to the
lower heart to cause it to beat. The large athletic healthy heart
has such large muscles that they outgrow the nerves that carry each
heart beat so that not all upper heart electrical impulses pass to
the lower heart. Future studies will show whether this is harmful
or a harmless condition in athletes.
Since doctors have no data to show that older endurance
athletes with atrial fibrillation are not at increased risk for
strokes, they usually put them on drugs to prevent clotting. The
symptoms of atrial fibrillation include: *a sensation of a rapid
or irregular heartbeat, *a fluttering feeling in the chest,
*sudden anxiety that the heart is beating irregularly, *sudden
dizziness or faintness, *sudden shortness of breath, *sudden chest
pain, *sudden loss of strength going up stairs or getting up from
a chair, *sudden fatigue anytime.