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NBA Players Putting Their Hearts Into Medical Research

Despite the excellent shape of most NBA superstars, professional basketball players have the highest rate of sports related sudden cardiac death (SCD) in the United States. In fact, NBA players are close to 30 times more likely to die from SCD. Unfortunately, there is limited information on the structure and function of professional athlete’s hearts.  As a result Doctors and researchers have been unable to conclude why NBA players have greater risk. A new study from Columbia University Medical Center and lead researcher Dr. David Engel has examined over 500 current NBA players. This baseline data is just the start of research that will track the player’s heart structure and function through retirement.

The tallest current NBA player reaches a whopping 7 feet 3 inches! The league wide average is a height of 6 feet 7 inches and 222 pounds. There is no denying that these men are huge; but how do their hearts size up? The study revealed that the heart and Aorta size increase with the size of the athlete. This was expected. The researchers also found that the left ventricle, which pumps blood from the heart to the rest of the body, was larger than most adults. Further, the left ventricle was still proportional to the size of the athlete; however there were some noticeable differences.  The wall of the left ventricle was noticeably thicker among many athletes. This can be a sign of decreased heart function.

The research also established a correlation between the left ventricle thickening and ethnicity; as well as total heart mass and ethnicity. With the new data, the research team is able to consider possible treatment for some of the world’s biggest stars. However, at this time, researchers find it very challenging to link a specific physiological difference to an increased risk for SCD. Over the next few years, the research will continue, hopefully pinpointing the cause of increased SCD in NBA players.

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Source: Healthday. “NBA Players Putting Their Hearts Into Medical Research: MedlinePlus.” U.S National Library of Medicine. U.S. National Library of Medicine, 24 Feb. 2016. Web. 26 Feb. 2016.

caption-arrow  Feature photo by Loren Kerns


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