Return to Sports With Heart Conditions

It might be difficult to resume a sport or fitness routine after an accident. It might feel like a life-or-death decision to do so after being diagnosed with a cardiac disease.

To ease some of that worry, we’ll go through the most recent recommendations for returning to sports or activity for four distinct types of cardiac conditions:

  • Heart murmurs
  • Genetic heart diseases
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Coronary artery disease

Consult your cardiologist for guidance on when and how to treat your individual symptoms.

Heart Murmurs

The majority of cardiac murmurs observed in athletes do not indicate anything is amiss. A murmur is the sound of blood running through the heart, similar to how water passing through pipes sounds. It is a typical finding in young and healthy hearts, indicating proper function. The heart can grow somewhat enlarged as a result of regular aerobic activity, allowing it to transport more blood.

A murmur can be caused by a constriction or leakage of one or more of the heart’s valves, or by a tiny hole in the heart. A murmur might also be caused by hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a hereditary disease that can decrease or obstruct blood flow from the left ventricle to the aorta.

In certain cases, strenuous activity can strain the heart, resulting in an irregular pulse or worsening of heart function.

Based on the time and pitch of your murmur, your cardiologist should be able to determine its type. They may also suggest an echocardiogram, which is an ultrasound of the heart that shows how effectively the heart pumps and how efficiently the valves function.
If you have a cardiac murmur that isn’t caused by an underlying disease, you should be able to resume exercise or competition without hesitation.

Genetic Heart Diseases

Inherited heart disorders, also known as genetic heart diseases, can cause anatomical abnormalities in the heart as well as hazardous irregular heart rhythms. In ventricular fibrillation, the electrical system of the heart causes the heart to quiver rather than pump blood to the rest of the body. It can be deadly if not treated quickly.

It was formerly thought that exercise increased the chance of ventricular fibrillation and other types of cardiac arrest in people with hereditary heart problems. Cardiologists have long counselled avoiding athletics for these patients, in accordance with 2005 guidelines issued by the American Heart Association and American College of Cardiology.

But in 2015, the guidelines changed in response to new research. It’s now recommended that athletes receive a thorough examination from a specialist in genetic heart diseases and follow a personalized management plan to exercise safely.

Congenital Heart Disease

Similarly, doctors traditionally restricted exercise for children with congenital heart disease. Congenital heart diseases are caused by abnormalities in the heart’s development and affect about one in 100 kids in the United States. But restrictions have changed in recent years.

“Research on patients with congenital heart disease, even complex disease, has shown that routine moderate exercise is safe and can be beneficial,” says the American Heart Association.

Shaun White, the Olympic gold medalist and professional snowboarder, has become a shining example of leading a healthy, active life with congenital heart disease – as long as young athletes continue to undergo regular assessment and care.

It’s also important to recognize that each congenital heart defect is unique, so limitations may vary from person to person. Cardiologists can use ongoing monitoring to determine how much dynamic and static exercise a person can tolerate.

Coronary Artery Disease

Coronary artery disease is the most common type of heart disease in the U.S. Fatty deposits on the inner walls of the arteries can block the arteries and lead to a heart attack.

However, most people with coronary artery disease can play competitive or amateur sports. What’s more, regular exercise can prevent heart disease and reduce the odds of premature death in people with heart disease.

For weekend warriors and competitive athletes alike, awareness is key. If exercise causes palpitations, unusual shortness of breath, or chest discomfort seek prompt medical attention. In highly trained individuals, the symptoms of coronary disease can be subtler including reduction in athletic performance.

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