The prevalence, distribution, and clinical outcomes of electrocardiographic repolarization patterns in male athletes of African/Afro-Caribbean origin

Eur Heart J. 2011 Sep;32(18):2304-13. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehr140. Epub 2011 May 25.


Aims: Athletic training in male black athletes (BAs) is associated with marked ECG repolarization changes that overlap with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM). Differentiating between the two entities is prudent since BAs exhibit a higher prevalence of exercise-related sudden death from HCM compared with white athletes (WAs).

Methods and results: Between 1996 and 2010, 904 BAs underwent serial cardiac evaluations including ECG and echocardiography. Athletes exhibiting T-wave inversions were investigated further for HCM. Results were compared with 1819 WAs, 119 black controls (BCs), and 52 black HCM patients. Athletes were followed up for 69.7 ± 29.6 months. T-wave inversions were present in 82.7% HCM patients, 22.8% BAs, 10.1% BCs, and 3.7% WAs. In athletes, the major determinant of T-wave inversions was black ethnicity. T-wave inversions in BAs (12.7%) were predominantly confined to contiguous anterior leads (V1-V4). Only 4.1% of BAs exhibited T-wave inversions in the lateral leads. In contrast, both BCs and HCM patients exhibited lower prevalence of T-wave inversions in leads V1-V4 (4.2 and 3.8%, respectively) with most T-wave inversions in HCM patients (76.9%) involving the lateral leads. During follow-up one BA survived cardiac arrest and two athletes (one BA, one WA) were diagnosed with HCM. All three exhibited T-wave inversions in the lateral leads.

Conclusions: T-wave inversions in leads V1-V4 appear to represent an ethnic variant of 'athlete's heart'. Conversely, T-wave inversions in the lateral leads may represent the initial expression of underlying cardiomyopathy and merit further evaluation and regular surveillance.

Publication types

  • Multicenter Study
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / ethnology
  • Blacks*
  • Cardiomegaly, Exercise-Induced / physiology*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / diagnosis*
  • Cardiomyopathy, Hypertrophic / ethnology
  • Diagnosis, Differential
  • Echocardiography
  • Electrocardiography
  • Electrocardiography, Ambulatory
  • Exercise Test
  • France / epidemiology
  • Heart Conduction System / physiology
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Prevalence
  • Sports / physiology*
  • United Kingdom / epidemiology
  • Young Adult