Aortic root dilatation in athletic population

Prog Cardiovasc Dis. 2012 Mar-Apr;54(5):432-7. doi: 10.1016/j.pcad.2012.01.004.


Remodeling of the aortic root may be expected to occur in athletes as a consequence of hemodynamic overload associated with exercise training; however, there are few data reporting its presence or extent. This review reports the current knowledge regarding the prevalence, upper limits, and clinical significance of aortic remodeling induced by athletic training. Several determinants impact aortic dimension in healthy, nonathletic individuals, including height, body size, age, sex, and blood pressure. Of these factors, anthropometric variables have the greatest impact. In athletes, the effect of exercise training appears to have only a modest additional influence on aortic dimension, although previous studies have produced some conflicting results. Specifically, data derived from the largest available athletic cohort suggest that the most hemodynamically intense endurance disciplines (eg, cycling and swimming) are associated with a significant but mild increase in aortic dimensions. Power disciplines, instead, (eg, weight lifting, throwing events) have only trivial, if any, impact. In contrast, selected data from a different athlete population suggest a more significant dimensional aortic remodeling in strength-trained individuals. In our experience, the 99th percentile value of aortic root diameter corresponds to 40 mm in males and 34 mm in females, which can reasonably be considered the upper limits of physiologic aortic root remodeling. However, a small proportion of apparently healthy male athletes (approximately 1%) show aortic enlargement above the upper limits, in the absence of systemic disease (ie, Marfan syndrome). Athletes presenting with aortic enlargement may demonstrate a further dimensional increase in midlife leading to clinically relevant aortic dilatation. Occasionally, dilation may be severe enough to warrant consideration for surgical treatment. Therefore, serial clinical and echocardiographic evaluations are recommended in athletes when aortic root exceeds the sex-specific thresholds.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological
  • Aorta / pathology*
  • Aorta / physiopathology
  • Aortic Aneurysm / etiology*
  • Aortic Aneurysm / pathology
  • Aortic Aneurysm / physiopathology
  • Aortic Aneurysm / therapy
  • Athletes*
  • Dilatation, Pathologic
  • Exercise*
  • Female
  • Hemodynamics
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Physical Endurance
  • Practice Guidelines as Topic
  • Predictive Value of Tests
  • Prognosis
  • Risk Assessment
  • Risk Factors