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David Ferguson, Ph.D, RCEP  


In today’s sporting environment, great importance is placed on the health education of the athlete.

This includes proper nutrition instruction, health assessment, and the application of proper treatments and rehabilitation modalities to injured athletes. However, this is a fairly new development in sport, and athletes who competed 30 years ago did not receive these benefits. Because of this, many former athletes are being diagnosed with cardiovascular disease (CVD), among other conditions, and especially disheartening, in the late stages. Adding to the lack of routine assessment in previous decades is the mentality of some athletes that “since I’m an athlete, I will not suffer from cardiovascular disease.”   The truth is that even if an individual was a former athlete, lack of exercise coupled with a poor diet means he or she is at risk for cardiovascular disease just like anyone else, making CVD assessment an important preventative.  This article will discuss what an athlete can expect when going through the process of CVD assessment and treatment.

            Prevention is always better then treatment. All individuals, including athletes, should have a yearly physical to measure blood pressure, cholesterol and weight. A physician may prescribe medications to help treat symptoms that could lead to cardiovascular disease.   However, the most important thing to remember when preventing cardiovascular disease is that a diet low in salt and fat combined with moderate intensity exercise for at least 30 minutes a day on most days of the week is key. 

If an athlete is diagnosed with CVD, it is important to know that the condition is treatable. Cardiovascular disease is characterized by blockage of the arteries that deliver oxygen to the heart, which can lead to a heart attack. To treat this, physicians will prescribe a cocktail of medications with specific functions:  reducing cholesterol (sometimes including statins), decreasing blood pressure and improving heart function (beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics), and in some cases decreasing the incidence of stroke (blood thinners).   It is important to realize that adhering to the medication will help the condition.

            Typically, athletes are most receptive to treatment in physical rehabilitation. Research has shown that cardiac rehab will reduce the symptoms of CVD, improve quality of life, and increase an individual’s longevity. Cardiac rehab therapists develop a personal exercise program, and additionally provide information on proper nutrition, home exercise programs, and psychological consoling if necessary. This resembles the training programs he or she participated in during the competitive years.  Such cardiac rehab programs usually last around three months, with initial supervision as the athlete progresses. The goal of program is for the athlete to take control of life style changes to help ensure the reduction in CVD.

            Athletes are not spared from the risk of CVD due to a previous athletic career. Yet a diagnosis of CVD can be overcome with careful adherence to a suitable program, leading to a successful recovery. 
           
Further Reading
  1. Durstine, Larry J. ACSM’s Exercise management for Persons with Chronic Disease and Disabilities. 3rd edition. “Chapter 19: Asthma”, Human Kinetics, Champaign, IL, 2009.
  2. ACSM's Guidelines For Exercise Testing and Prescription 7th Edition. Lippincott Williams & Wilkins; 2006. http://books.google.com/books/about/ACSM_s_Guidelines_for_Exercise_Testing_a.html?id=8cRfd7GFZjMC
  • I’m An Athlete! I Do Not Have Heart Problems!


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