By Dr. Brian McDonough

KYW Medical Reports Sponsored By Independence Blue Cross

By Dr. Brian McDonough, Medical Editor

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — There is no doubt that sudden cardiac death is one of the greatest concerns we have in treating athletes.

Although rare, we  far too often hear stories of cardiac events occurring on practice fields and sporting events across the country.

Every time an athlete dies on the field, there is renewed interest in the controversial topic of pre-participation screening. But what constitutes a healthy heart in athletes?

Columbia University researchers have been studying this. in particular, they looked at echocardiographic data from 526 NBA players obtained during mandatory league testing.  One important, but not unexpected, finding of this study was that the left ventricle –the major  pumping chamber of the heart-was significantly larger in athletes than in the general population. They found the lv size was proportional to body size.

Another finding is that athletes’ hearts tend to be larger – a normal phenomenon of intense training. Why is this so important? The knowledge will help as physicians determine which athletes are more likely to have a problem called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy—associated with sudden death. Somewhat technical but a way to help physicians understand difference by getting a better grasp on what is normal.