A cyclist at the Atrial Fibrillation Symposium- Day 1. Athletes and AFib get some press…

It is a seemingly endless classroom, forty foot warehouse type ceiling, all black walls, five bipoles of jumbo screen monitors and hundreds of atrial fibrillation experts from all over the world, speaking in many dialects and languages.  A long way from the friendly confines and comfort of lab 5, the electrophysiology lab on Kresge Way.

In the first three hours we have heard from Spain, Milan, Montreal, London, Taipei, Indianapolis and Boston -like the world championship of atrial fib.

Atrial Fibrillation in the Athlete…

Of the many years I have attended this conference this year is the first I have heard about atrial fibrillation in the competitive athlete.  Of course, for this wanna-be competitive cyclist and student of athletics in general, this topic is of great interest.

It is true that competitive athletes have an unexpectedly high incidence of atrial arrhythmia which seems paradoxical given their supposed “good” health.  It could be a selection bias due to my cycling hobby, but I clearly see more athletes than expected with arrhythmias.

The first of two twenty minute talks came from a basic scientist who studied rats who were made to run for 60 minutes per day.  It makes one grin to visualize a brainiac research fellow supervising rats training on treadmills for weeks.  Drill the rats out on a daily basis and they get fit, have larger hearts and slower heart rates but interestingly more susceptibility to atrial fibrillation.

Considering the recent revelations on the pandemic of performance enhancing drugs in sport (not just cycling) the second presentation on the clinical aspects of atrial fibrillation and athletes is certainly timely.   Presented by a fit appearing clinician from Italy, it was not long into the twenty minute lecture before multiple slides on the postulation that performance enhancing drugs may be playing a significant role in generating abnormal rhythms.   He emphatically pointed out that the use of elicit drugs was not limited to professional athletes but, at least in Italy, was commonly observed in the amateur ranks as well.

No accusatory words here -just very provocative thoughts.  Surely there is more to the story of why so many endurance athletes are beset with atrial fibrillation.  I suppose like anything in life, too much of anything is not so good.

It is the off season, let the learning continue.

Tomorrow there are live ablation procedures beamed in from France and Minnesota.  Good stuff.

JMM