Role of echocardiography in screening and evaluation of athletes.

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The term athlete's heart describes structural, functional and electrical adaptations of the cardiovascular system due to repetitive intense exercise. Physiological cardiac adaptations in athletes, however, may mimic features of cardiac diseases and therefore make it difficult to distinguish physiological adaptions from disease. Furthermore, regular exercise may also lead to pathological adaptions that can promote or worsen cardiac disease (eg, atrial dilation/atrial fibrillation, aortic dilation/aortic dissection and rhythm disorders). Sudden cardiac death (SCD) is a major concern in sports cardiology, and preparticipation screening (PPS) has demonstrated to be effective in identifying athletes at risk for SCD. In Europe, PPS is advocated to include personal and family history, physical examination and ECG, with further workup including echocardiography only if the initial screening investigations show abnormal findings. We review the current available evidence for echocardiography as a screening tool for conditions associated with SCD in recreational and professional athletes and advocate to include screening echocardiography to be performed at least twice in an athlete's career. We recommend that the first echocardiography is performed during adolescence to rule out structural heart conditions associated with SCD that cannot be detected by ECG, especially mitral valve prolapse, coronary artery anomalies, bicuspid aortic valve and dilatation of the aorta. A second echocardiography could be performed from the age of 30-35 years, when athletes age and become master athletes, to especially evaluate pathological cardiac remodelling to exercise (eg, atrial and/or right ventricular dilation), late onset cardiomyopathies and wall motion abnormalities due to myocarditis or coronary artery disease.


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