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Vigorous exercise boosts heart risk

16th June 2009

A person's risk of atrial fibrillation goes up with increased vigorous exercise, according to new research.

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Atrial fibrillation is a heart arrhythmia involving the upper chambers of the heart.

Though the disease can be detected by taking someone's pulse and noting the absence of a regular interval between heartbeats, doctors also use an electrocardiogram to determine its presence in their patients.

Anthony Aizer of the New York University Medical Center led the latest research.

He and his team said that although vigorous exercise has numerous health benefits, case reports and limited data suggest that elite athletic men engaging in endurance exercise may be at higher risk for the development of atrial fibrillation.

The rapid heart rate caused by atrial fibrillation can lead to fainting, heart failure and also stroke if left untreated.

Risk of stroke from atrial fibrillation comes from the fact that blood may pool and form clots in the parts of the heart that have trouble contracting.

However, the risk of stroke is  minimal if there are no other risk factors facing the person with atrial fibrillation.

In conducting their study, the researchers analyzed data from 16,921 apparently healthy men starting in the year 1982.

After time had elapsed, 1,661 reported atrial fibrillation.

The survey asked subjects questions about their own exercise patterns.

According to the results of the study, five to seven days of sweat-breaking activity per week increased the subjects' odds of atrial fibrillation by 20%.

Only joggers younger than 50 years of age were subject to the increased risk.

The risk of atrial fibrillation rose by 74% among younger men and by 53% among joggers.

The authors concluded that their results can not make a direct causal link to atrial fibrillation, and does not consider any additional factors.

They said that vigorous exercise was directly associated with several atrial fibrillation risk factors, and, therefore, it is also possible that a more detailed study would reveal even greater risks.

A person's risk of having atrial fibrillation decreases with age, and nearly 10% of people over 80 have it.

Though the disorder usually accompanies a rapid heart rate, these may be perceived as palpitations or intolerance to exercise.

Atrial fibrillation can be and often is asymptomatic.


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