The aim of the present study was to compare cardiac structure as well as global and regional cardiac function in athletes with and without myocardial fibrosis (MF). Cardiac magnetic resonance imaging with late gadolinium enhancement was used to detect MF and global cardiac structure in nine lifelong veteran endurance athletes (58 ± 5 years, 43 ± 5 years of training). Transthoracic echocardiography using tissue-Doppler and myocardial strain imaging assessed global and regional (18 segments) longitudinal left ventricular function. MF was present in four athletes (range 1-8 g) and not present in five athletes. MF was located near the insertion points of the right ventricular free wall on the left ventricle in three athletes and in the epicardial lateral wall in one athlete. Athletes with MF demonstrated a larger end diastolic volume (205 ± 24 vs 173 ± 18 ml) and posterior wall thickness (11 ± 1 vs 9 ± 1 mm) compared to those without MF. The presence of MF did not mediate global tissue velocities or global longitudinal strain and strain rate; however, regional analysis of longitudinal strain demonstrated reduced function in some fibrotic regions. Furthermore, base to apex gradient was affected in three out of four athletes with MF. Lifelong veteran endurance athletes with MF demonstrate larger cardiac dimensions and normal global cardiac function. Fibrotic areas may demonstrate some co-localised regional cardiac dysfunction, evidenced by an affected cardiac strain and base to apex gradient. These data emphasize the heterogeneous phenotype of MF in athletes.
Keywords: Exercise; cardiac remodelling; echocardiography; late gadolinium enhancement.