Male triathletes should be concerned about their heart health. According to a report presented at the recent Radiological Society of North America (RSNA) conference, extensive exercise involved in triathlon training can result in myocardial fibrosis, a dire heart condition. However, females are not susceptible to the same risk.
Although exercise is generally considered a good way to maintain a healthy heart, excessive exercise can be detrimental to the organ. Myocardial fibrosis can be a precursor to heart failure. The condition affects the ventricles, and can damage tissue which provokes fibrotic scarring.
Jitka Starekova, MD, and her team of researchers from the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany studied a group of 99 triathletes: 55 men and 30 women, who were all, on average, 44 and 43 years old respectively. All athletes underwent a cardiac MRI exam involving a gadolinium based contrast agent (GBCA), which washes out easily from healthy heart tissue but at a much slower rate in scarred tissue. Called late gadolinium enhancement, this distinction helped the researchers identify myocardial fibrosis in 10 out of the 55 men but no females demonstrated the condition. These 10 men had competed in longer swimming and cycling events and “had higher peak exercise systolic blood pressure than their counterparts without myocardial fibrosis.”
According to Dr. Starekova, there are a number of factors that come into play for developing myocardial fibrosis and injured or inflamed heart muscle, such as: “higher exercise-induced blood pressure,” increased exercise, “repeatedly increased stress to the left ventricular wall,” and testosterone.
“Although we cannot prove the exact mechanism for the development of myocardial fibrosis in triathletes, increased systolic blood pressure during exercise, the amount and extent of race distances and unnoticed myocarditis could be cofactors in the genesis of the condition,” said Dr. Starekova. “In other words, repetition of any extreme athletic activity may not be beneficial for everyone.”