Purpose: To study young adult elite athletes with age- and sex-matched sedentary controls to assess sex-specific differences for left ventricular (LV) and right ventricular (RV) volumes and mass as well as for LV contraction and relaxation.
Materials and methods: A total of 23 male athletes (mean age 25 +/- 4 years, training 22 +/- 7 hours/week in rowing, swimming, or triathlon) and 20 female athletes (mean age 24 +/- 4 years, training 19 +/- 5 hours/week in rowing, swimming, or triathlon) and age- and sex-matched sedentary controls (21 male/17 female) underwent cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) imaging (1.5 Tesla). Cardiac phase contrast imaging using a black-blood k-space segmented gradient echo sequence was used for analysis of cardiac contraction and relaxation and steady-state free-precession cine images were acquired for determination of cardiac volumes and mass.
Results: Male and female athletes showed similar increases in LV and RV volume and mass indices when compared to controls (ranging between 15% and 42%). No sex-specific differences in training effect on LV and RV volumes, mass indices, and ejection fractions, as well as LV to RV ratios of these volume and mass indices (parameters of balanced LV and RV dilatation and hypertrophy) were observed (all P for interaction >0.05). Similarly, no sex-specific differences in training effect on cardiac contraction and relaxation were found (all P for interaction >0.05).
Conclusion: Young adult elite athletes do not show sex-specific adaptive structural and functional changes to exercise training in accordance with the benign nature of the hypertrophy associated with athlete's heart.