Differentiation between athlete’s heart and dilated cardiomyopathy in athletic individuals

Former CRY Research Fellow Dr Lynne Millar recently completed a study into dilated cardiomyopathy in athletes, entitled “Differentiation between athlete’s heart and dilated cardiomyopathy in athletic individuals” (Millar L, Fanton Z, Finocchiaro G, et al. Heart, July 2020). This paper intended to distinguish the difference between dilated cardiomyopathy and typical, healthy changes that can occur in an athlete’s heart, and came up with an array of tests to help achieve this.

This research is best explained by Dr Millar herself:

“We know around 11% of highly trained athletes have a heart that mimics a heart muscle condition called dilated cardiomyopathy or ‘DCM’ for short due to the changes in the heart from athletic training. We also know that DCM can be serious and previous CRY research has shown around 1-2% of athletes die from this condition. It is therefore incredibly important that we differentiate these two conditions to ensure those with DCM are properly diagnosed, given appropriate treatment and that family members are screened if necessary. Additionally, we don’t want to incorrectly label someone with a DCM if in fact they are healthy as this would have potential serious implications for their life and exercise.

“In this study we were able to come up with a comprehensive set of tests to distinguish athletic adaption from DCM with a high level of accuracy. Specifically the use of exercise stress echocardiography (a heart scan performed at rest and during exercise) was particularly useful to differentiate these two conditions. These tests can be then easily used by doctors when faced with this clinical problem. To date there has been little research in this field and we believe this paper will help inform our understanding of DCM and the athlete’s heart.”

If you would like to learn more about this study, from the tests used to exact findings, you can read the paper on the Heart website here.