Myocardial Fibrosis in Athletes

Mayo Clin Proc. 2016 Nov;91(11):1617-1631. doi: 10.1016/j.mayocp.2016.07.012. Epub 2016 Oct 6.


Myocardial fibrosis (MF) is a common phenomenon in the late stages of diverse cardiac diseases and is a predictive factor for sudden cardiac death. Myocardial fibrosis detected by magnetic resonance imaging has also been reported in athletes. Regular exercise improves cardiovascular health, but there may be a limit of benefit in the exercise dose-response relationship. Intense exercise training could induce pathologic cardiac remodeling, ultimately leading to MF, but the clinical implications of MF in athletes are unknown. For this comprehensive review, we performed a systematic search of the PubMed and MEDLINE databases up to June 2016. Key Medical Subject Headings terms and keywords pertaining to MF and exercise (training) were included. Articles were included if they represented primary MF data in athletes. We identified 65 athletes with MF from 19 case studies/series and 14 athletic population studies. Myocardial fibrosis in athletes was predominantly identified in the intraventricular septum and where the right ventricle joins the septum. Although the underlying mechanisms are unknown, we summarize the evidence for genetic predisposition, silent myocarditis, pulmonary artery pressure overload, and prolonged exercise-induced repetitive micro-injury as contributors to the development of MF in athletes. We also discuss the clinical implications and potential treatment strategies of MF in athletes.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Athletes*
  • Biopsy
  • Fibrosis
  • Heart Septum / pathology
  • Heart Ventricles / pathology
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging, Cine
  • Myocardium / pathology*