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Int J Cardiovasc Imaging. 2013 Jan;29(1):87-94. doi: 10.1007/s10554-012-0063-z. Epub 2012 May 16.

Characterization of right atrial function and dimension in top-level athletes: a speckle tracking study.

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Department of Cardiovascular Diseases, University of Siena, Viale M. Bracci, 16 53100, Siena, Italy.


Although many echocardiographic studies are available about the adaptation of left ventricle to intensive training, right heart function has been poorly investigated and no data are available about the right atrial (RA) function in top-level athletes. The aim of the study was to investigate RA function and dimension by standard echocardiography and 2D speckle tracking echocardiography (STE). One hundred top-levels athletes were recruited from professional sports team and were compared with 78 normal subjects. Athletes during an off-training period or during prolonged forced rest resulting from injuries were excluded. Top-level athletes had higher BSA as compared with controls and, as expected, a lower resting heart rate (p ≤ 0.001). RA area, volume, and volume index were significantly greater in athletes than in controls (p ≤ 0.001). This increase was associated with greater right ventricular and inferior vena cava diameters (p ≤ 0.001). Peak atrial longitudinal strain and peak atrial contraction strain values were significantly lower in athletes in comparison with controls (40.92 ± 9.86% vs. 48.00 ± 12.68%, p ≤ 0.001; 13.05 ± 4.84% vs. 15.99 ± 5.74%, p ≤ 0.001, respectively). Interestingly, while athletes presented a higher E/A ratio (p ≤ 0.001) and a lower peak A velocity (p ≤ 0.001), the E/e' ratio did not differ between the two groups. In top-level athletes the RA presents a physiological adaptation to intensive exercise conditioning which determines not only a morphological but also a functional remodeling. We reported for the first time reference values of RA strain in elite athletes, demonstrating that 2D STE is a useful tool to investigate RA longitudinal myocardial deformation dynamics in athlete's heart.

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