Pathological and physiological left ventricular hypertrophy: echocardiography for differentiation

Future Cardiol. 2009 Sep;5(5):495-502. doi: 10.2217/fca.09.34.


Distinguishing physiological left ventricular hypertrophy of an athlete's heart from that of pathological left ventricular (hypertrophic cardiomyopathy) can be difficult despite the advent of new imaging techniques. Nevertheless, the final diagnosis is of utmost importance as it will have a profound impact on an individual's life. A diagnosis of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy essentially excludes an individual from sport and strenuous exertion and necessitates the need for further tests and treatment, as well as the screening of family members. Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy remains the most common cause of a pathologically hypertrophied heart in young athletes, with a prevalence of one in 500. The issue of sudden death in athletes due to pathological left ventricular hypertrophy and hypertrophic cardiomyopathy has recently gained recognition owing to the death of several word class athletes during sporting participation. What compounds this further is the fact that a proportion of athletes fall into the 'grey zone' (ventricular wall thickness of 13-16 mm) where the increase in cardiac size overlaps with the phenotypic variation of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy - making echocardiographic differentiation of the two entities challenging. This review discusses the echocardiographic differentiation of the athlete's heart, including physiological left ventricular hypertrophy from pathological left ventricular hypertrophy. Although several of the cardiomyopathies cause pathological left ventricular hypertrophy, focus will be given to hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, for reasons mentioned above. Discussion will also focus on the newer and emerging echocardiographic techniques for this purpose. The term 'hypertrophic cardiomyopathy' is used to describe the nonobstuctive form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy as this review article focuses on distinguishing the 'mild' form of hypertrophic cardiomyopathy from an athlete's heart. When the more severe obstructive form is being described, the term 'hypertrophic obstructive cardiomyopathy' is used.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / diagnostic imaging*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / pathology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Echocardiography
  • Echocardiography, Doppler
  • Echocardiography, Three-Dimensional
  • Female
  • Heart Ventricles / diagnostic imaging*
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology
  • Humans
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / diagnostic imaging*
  • Hypertrophy, Left Ventricular / pathology
  • Male
  • Sex Factors