Evaluation and management of arrhythmia in the athletic patient

Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Mar-Apr;54(5):423-31. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2012.01.002.


Athletes may present with palpitations, syncope, or arrest resulting in the diagnosis of arrhythmia, or screening may result in diagnosis of conditions with predisposition to arrhythmia. This chapter focuses on 3 common arrhythmic conditions in athletes-atrial fibrillation, premature ventricular contractions (PVCs), and the athlete with an implanted device. (1) Atrial fibrillation: most studies show that atrial fibrillation is more common in competitive athletes, particularly those participating in long-term endurance sports. Postulated mechanisms include morphologic changes such as atrial dilatation, autonomic changes such as increased vagal tone, or inflammatory changes due to sports participation. Treatment options include long-term antiarrhythmic agents, "pill in the pocket" medications, or radiofrequency ablation, a highly successful procedure in athletes. (2) Premature ventricular contractions: data conflict on whether the incidence of PVCs is increased in highly trained individuals. Very frequent PVCs in athletes, however, can be a manifestation of underlying heart disease, and athletes presenting with PVCs should undergo evaluation. In the absence of underlying heart disease, PVCs do not carry a poor prognosis, and US guidelines do not recommend restriction from sports. (3) Implanted devices: the safety of sports for the athlete with an implanted device is unknown, and current guidelines recommend against participation in vigorous competitive sports, based on postulated risks including failure to defibrillate and risk of injury. Many athletes with defibrillators and pacemakers do participate in sports. Ongoing research will better delineate the risks of sports for the athlete with an implanted device.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / diagnosis*
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / etiology
  • Arrhythmias, Cardiac / therapy*
  • Athletes*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / diagnosis
  • Atrial Fibrillation / therapy
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / etiology
  • Death, Sudden, Cardiac / prevention & control
  • Electric Countershock / adverse effects
  • Exercise*
  • Humans
  • Pacemaker, Artificial / adverse effects
  • Physical Endurance
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors
  • Ventricular Premature Complexes / diagnosis
  • Ventricular Premature Complexes / therapy