Heart Health in Endurance Athletes: What’s up, Doc?

Welcome to Part 2 of the Heart Health series! If you missed Part 1, you can check that out by clicking here.

Having previously decided to get a full heart and health check, I had booked an appointment with my GP and was all set to get the ball rolling on my heart health journey…

The First Step: A check-up with the nurse.

Before seeing the doctor, the nurse checked me over, asked some lifestyle/history questions, and recorded some vitals to get a baseline of my general health. I don’t smoke, I drink very little alcohol, and I think I eat well. I explained that I work a behind a computer quite a lot, but consider myself an endurance athlete. Everything looked pretty good on paper as far as I could tell.

For full disclosure, here are my basic stats from that check-up:

Age: 41
Height: 176 cm
Weight: 64 kg
Blood pressure: 108 / 78
Blood glucose: 4.2

She also performed an ECG. This involved hooking me up to a bunch of electrodes and getting a reading on my heart rhythm. That sounds complicated, but it literally took 2-3 minutes.

Then it was across the hall to see my doctor.

First up, I explained to the doctor my family history and that I wanted to get a baseline of EVERYTHING POSSIBLE plus book in for some further, in-depth heart checks. We discussed diet and lifestyle, then she went over the results of my ECG read-out.

See those three massive spikes in the top right corner of the image above? They shouldn’t be there. It’s a sign of Left Ventricular Hypertrophy.

Left ventricular hypertrophy, or LVH, is where the heart’s left pumping chamber has thickened. Problems such as aortic stenosis or high blood pressure can overwork the heart muscle. In response to this overload, the inner walls of the heart may respond by getting thicker. These thickened walls can cause the left ventricle to weaken, stiffen and lose elasticity, which may prevent healthy blood flow.

That said, my cardiac exam was normal so she is 99% sure the spikes have been caused by the electrodes sitting super-close to my heart. I’m fairly skinny. In most people there is a decent layer of fat between the heart and the electrode. Still, it is something that should be checked out further.

After some more discussion, she ordered a bunch of blood tests. I don’t know exactly what all of them mean, but on the pathology sheet it has requests for; FCB, UEC, LFTs, fasting BSL, TSH, HDL, nonHDL, LDL and triglycerides, Vit D, B12/folate, iron studies, testosterone level, CMP.

Lastly, she referred me to a heart specialist in Hobart. The specialist will give my heart a thorough review and most likely run me through some heart stress testing. I’ll be taking any tests he offers in order to get a complete picture if my heart’s overall health!

More to follow in Part 3…

5 Comments Add yours

  1. niall says:

    A good few of those tests are for cholesterol and similar chemical levels in the blood which is always the biggest concern in men. There’s a history of bad cholesterol in my family and I have inherited it too but it’s easily controlled using a daily tablet. That’s not without side effects though 😑

    If you get offered a heart scan take it. I had a CT angiogram a few years ago and it gave me a clean bill of health so long as I take the meds. It was described to me as a bit like an MRI of the heart.

    It can be frightening thinking something can be wrong inside that is unseen and out of your control but you’re doing the right thing by getting checked out 👍

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks Niall. It’s a little concerning but I’d rather know now than be surprised later! My doctor was worried about hereditary high cholesterol.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. As an endurance athlete, your left ventricle is naturally larger than “average” because it works harder than average. It is a muscle and you’re exercising it. It is worth having checked out, but by someone who understands what you do. There is a fine line between having a more muscular left ventricle than most and pathology. “Hypertrophy” is just a fancy word to say “bigger than usual”. It isn’t always bad.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks. I did a little bit of Googling on the issue, but not too much as I didn’t want to get carried away! I did read something about athletes and my doctor mentioned it. She referred my to a heart specialist with some experience with athletes, not just unhealthy patients. We shall see!

      Liked by 1 person

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