The dangerous heart condition many NFL players could be facing

The dangerous heart condition many NFL players could be facing

Most health news about the National Football League (NFL) tends to revolve around the brain and how years of heavy hits may be affecting it.

A new study, though, examined retired NFL players and the size of their aortas.

Hearts are known to change as a result of exercise but often return to their normal size once the exercise ends.

“Exercise causes remodeling of the heart, usually in the form of enlarged lower chambers to accommodate the additional blood flow,” says Dr. Dory Jarzabkowski, cardiologist with Advocate Heart Institute at BroMenn Medical Center in Normal, Ill. “The exercise capacity also increases to greater than 110 percent. This is normal remodeling. If the athlete stops exercising for three months, the chamber sizes will return to normal.”

This study found that nearly 30 percent of the ex-NFL players had an aorta wider than four centimeters (the threshold to be considered dilated). Only 8.6 percent of the men in the control group (men older than 40) exceeded the four-centimeter mark. Dilation of the aorta can lead to a life-threatening aneurysm, a bulging of the wall of a blood vessel.

Study author Dr. Christopher Maroules, chief of cardiothoracic imaging at the Naval Medical Center in Portsmouth, Va., reported his findings at the recent Radiological Society of North America’s annual meeting.

“It remains to be seen if this remodeling sets athletes up for problems later in life,” he said. “We’re just scratching the surface of this intriguing field.”

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About the Author

Lynn Hutley
Lynn Hutley

Lynn Hutley, health enews contributor, is coordinator of public affairs and marketing at Advocate BroMenn Medical Center and Advocate Eureka Hospital in central Illinois. Having grown up in a family-owned drug store, it is no surprise that Lynn has spent almost 18 years working in the health care industry. She has a degree in human resources management from Illinois State University and is always ready to tackle Trivia Night.