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Rev Port Cardiol. 2015 Jan;34(1):51-64. doi: 10.1016/j.repc.2014.07.010. Epub 2015 Jan 7.

The hearts of competitive athletes: an up-to-date overview of exercise-induced cardiac adaptations.

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Hospital das Forças Armadas, Lisboa, Portugal; Hospital de Santa Cruz - Centro Hospitalar de Lisboa Ocidental, Carnaxide, Portugal; Faculdade de Ciências Médicas, Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal. Electronic address:
Centro de Medicina Desportiva de Lisboa, Lisboa, Portugal.
Department of Cardiovascular Sciences - St. George's University of London, London, United Kingdom.
Hospital de Santa Cruz - Centro Hospitalar de Lisboa Ocidental, Carnaxide, Portugal.


Intense and regular physical exercise is responsible for various cardiac changes (electrical, structural and functional) that represent physiological adaptation to exercise training. This remodeling, commonly referred to as 'athlete's heart', can overlap with several pathological entities, in which sudden cardiac death may be the first clinical presentation. Although pre-competitive screening can identify athletes with life-threatening cardiovascular abnormalities, there are no widely used standardized pre-participation programs and those currently implemented are controversial. Data from personal and family history, features of physical examination and changes in the 12-lead electrocardiogram can raise the suspicion of cardiac disease and lead to early detection of entities such as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. However, interpreting the electrocardiogram is often challenging, because some changes are considered physiological in athletes. Thus, clinical decision-making in such cases can prove difficult: missing a condition associated with an increased risk of life-threatening events, or conversely, mislabeling an athlete with a disease that leads to unnecessary disqualification, are both situations to avoid. This paper provides an up-to-date review of the physiological cardiac effects of exercise training and highlights key points that should be taken into consideration in the assessment of young competitive athletes.


Adaptação fisiológica; Athlete's heart; Coração de atleta; Morte súbita; Physiological adaptation; Rastreio; Screening; Sudden cardiac death

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