Athlete's Heart in Elite Sport Climbers: Cardiac Adaptations Determined Using ECG and Echocardiography Data

Wilderness Environ Med. 2020 Dec;31(4):418-425. doi: 10.1016/j.wem.2020.07.005. Epub 2020 Nov 12.


Introduction: Sudden cardiac death in a young athlete is the leading cause of mortality in athletes during sport. Specific knowledge about cardiac adaptations are necessary for a better understanding of the underlying causes of such events.

Methods: A retrospective analysis of the electrocardiogram and echocardiographic data obtained during the yearly medical examination of the entire German junior national climbing team was undertaken. First, data from 1 examination were used. In a second step, data from 2 examinations spaced 2 y apart were analyzed for a selected subgroup to gain more knowledge about adaptations to climbing. The data from the subgroup were compared to an age- and sex-matched control group of Nordic skiers from the German junior national Nordic skiing team.

Results: Forty-seven young climbers (20 girls, 27 boys) were examined once. There were no pathological findings in the electrocardiogram or echocardiography. The left ventricular (LV) measurements fell between those for athletes and nonathletes. Eight boys and 6 girls from this group were tested twice over a timeframe of 27.5 mo. All LV measurements increased over time. After 2 y, the measurements from the climbers were comparable to those of the Nordic skiers.

Conclusions: Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (hypertrophy of the LV) is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes. An increase in LV dimensions was observed in the young climbers in this study. LV dimensions being comparable to high-level Nordic skiers after 2 y in the national team imply structural changes over time in this cohort.

Keywords: adolescent athlete; cardiomyopathy; concentric hypertrophy; eccentric hypertrophy; pediatric cardiology; sports ability test.

MeSH terms

  • Adaptation, Physiological*
  • Adolescent
  • Child
  • Echocardiography*
  • Electrocardiography*
  • Exercise
  • Female
  • Heart / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Mountaineering*
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Skiing*