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Cardiovasc Res. 2017 Oct 1;113(12):1499-1508. doi: 10.1093/cvr/cvx156.

Exercise and the right ventricle: a potential Achilles' heel.

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Sports Cardiology and Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging Lab, Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, 75 Commercial Road, Melbourne, Victoria 3004, Australia.
Department of Cardiovascular Sciences, KU Leuven, Leuven, Belgium.
Cardiology Department, St Vincent's Hospital, Melbourne, Australia.
Cardiovascular Imaging Department, Southampton University Hospital, Southampton, UK.


Exercise is associated with unequivocal health benefits and results in many structural and functional changes of the myocardium that enhance performance and prevent heart failure. However, intense exercise also presents a significant hemodynamic challenge in which the right-sided heart chambers are exposed to a disproportionate increase in afterload and wall stress that can manifest as myocardial fatigue or even damage if intense exercise is sustained for prolonged periods. This review focuses on the physiological factors that result in a disproportionate load on the right ventricle during exercise and the long-term consequences. The changes in cardiac structure and function that define 'athlete's heart' disproportionately affect the right-sided heart chambers and this can raise important diagnostic overlap with some cardiac pathologies, particularly some inherited cardiomyopathies. The interaction between exercise and arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) will be highlighted as an important example of how hemodynamic stressors can combine with deficiencies in cardiac structural elements to cause cardiac dysfunction predisposing to arrhythmias. The extent to which extreme exercise can cause adverse remodelling in the absence of a genetic predisposition remains controversial. In the athlete with profound changes in heart structure, it can be extremely challenging to determine whether common symptoms such as palpitations may be a marker of more sinister arrhythmias. This review discusses some of the techniques that have recently been proposed to identify pathology in these circumstances. Finally, we will discuss recent evidence defining the role of exercise restriction as a therapeutic intervention in individuals predisposed to arrhythmogenic cardiomyopathy.


Arrhythmias; Athlete; Cardiomyopathy; Exercise; Right ventricle; Wall stress

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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