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Atrial remodelling and risk of arrhythmia in endurance athletes

Leader: Andre La Gerche

ProAFHeart is a study which assesses the effects of endurance exercise on increasing the risk of Atrial Fibrillation. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common sustained heart rhythm problem that increases the chance of stroke and heart failure and currently represents a growing socioeconomic burden in our ageing population. Amongst the established risk factors of age, hypertension and diabetes, exercise is increasingly recognised as a powerful modulator of AF risk.

Low and moderate intensity exercise is an important therapy in the prevention and treatment of AF but, at the other end of the spectrum, intense endurance exercise has been associated with a 5-fold increase in AF risk.

A minority of athletes who have participated in long term endurance exercise present either during their careers, or in retirement, with heart rhythm disturbances. In many cases this appears to be related to the amount of endurance exercise they have undertaken in their lifetime. Why this happens to some, and not all, endurance athletes is something we do not understand. Similarly, we know that some endurance athletes develop more profound heart enlargement than others in response to the same training load, but as yet, we do not have a good explanation for these individual variations.

Melbourne and Adelaide based cardiac researchers are recruiting a large group of endurance athletes to participate in a study which aims to explore how endurance exercise affects the heart and risk of developing heart rhythm problems.

We are currently recruiting participants for a clinical trial related to this project.