HCM And Athletes

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Surgery May Give Some Athletes New Lease On Life by Rita Jenkins

Sudden cardiac arrest is the most common cause of death for athletes during competition. But a relatively simple surgical procedure not only corrects the condition, but also gives affected individuals the promise of a normal life span, according to a recent study conducted at the Mayo Clinic.

The condition that triggers massive heart attacks in young, fit individuals is known as hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM), and it accounts for approximately 250,000 deaths annually in the US.

HCM causes an abnormal thickening of the heart, particularly in the wall between the two main pumping chambers. The thickened tissues impede blood flow into and out of the heart, resulting in such symptoms as shortness of breath, dizziness, chest pain, palpitations and fainting.

HCM can trigger sudden cardiac arrest by sending the heart into a dangerous electrical rhythm pattern.

Primary Cause Likely Genetic

Often, athletes do not even know they are at risk. Olympic skater Sergei Grinkov was apparently in peak physical condition in 1995 when he collapsed on the ice and died of a massive heart attack at the age of 28.

The primary cause of HCM seems to be genetic. About half of all patients have a close relative with the disease.

Treatments may include medications, such as beta blockers, to slow the heart's contractions, as well as placement of an internal defibrillator to shock the heart back into normal rhythm.

Normal Life Expectancy

For patients with severe obstructions of blood flow whose symptoms don't respond to medications, there is a surgical option. A portion of the thickened muscle wall can be removed in an operation known as myectomy.

The surgery does more than offer relief of symptoms -- it also decreases patients' mortality rates.

"Patients with severe symptoms related to HCM can now be counseled that surgical myectomy, a time-proven operation with low complication rates, can be expected to markedly improve symptoms and afford normal longevity," reports cardiologist Steve Ommen, MD, the Mayo Clinic cardiologist who led the retrospective study of 1,337 consecutive patients evaluated from 1983 to 2001.

"Until now, we didn't know whether feeling better translated into living longer. This new research suggests that for these younger patients, whose average age was 45 at the time of surgery, the operation gave them the same life expectancy as someone who had never had the disease."

Copyright 2005 Rita Jenkins is a health journalist for Daily News Central an online publication that delivers breaking news and reliable health information to consumers, healthcare providers and industry professionals.

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