If you’ve ever thought, “I exercise so I shouldn’t have any heart issues”—this is for you.

135 people have died from sudden heart attacks during triathlons in the US from 1985 until 2016 (just last year) according to a recent Internal Medicine study1.
To continue our blog theme about raising awareness of cardiac arrest and heart attack symptoms, we continue by sharing some scary statistics such as the one above. Even serious athletes are not immune to heart conditions and heart-related deaths.

The Facts

• 67 percent of these deaths occurred during the swimming portion of the triathlon (usually the first part of a triathlon)
• 85 % of the deaths were men
• In men, the risk increased substantially with age (risk was way higher for men 60 years old and older)

The Causes

Not warming up that well: The researchers commented that warming up properly could play into the cause of these heart-related deaths. By not adequately warming up, it puts an extra strain on your heart as a competitor in a serious race like a triathlon.

Denial: Denial is probably the most serious issue of them all. And in reality, most athletes lean towards denial of health issues since they have taken active steps (literally) towards being healthy.

The Coach of the Rocky Mountain Triathlon Club, Charles Perez was interviewed in a recent article about this study and he shared “once we get over 40, we start to get into denial very, very quickly. I know myself that was very true. When I first started noticing these heart arrhythmias I was in total denial this can’t be true – I’ve been running my whole life and there’s no way I can be having any sort of heart issues. It took a long time before I finally went into the doc and had it checked out and went to a heart specialist and they told me exactly what I had and gave me some options on what I could do for it.” Mr. Perez had been competing in endurance races for over 20 years when he developed Supraventricular Tachycardia which he had surgery for in 2001.

The great news is that he recovered and was able to continue doing triathlons. What we learned from all this is that we should never be in denial no matter what our regular level of exercise is.

What to look for?

They call heart disease the “silent killer” for a reason.

Heart issues often don’t have symptoms and can appear suddenly. You don’t know if you’ve got hardening of your arteries until you have what is referred to as an “event.”

By exerting your body to its highest level, a triathlon is truly like a stress test and can aggravate things to the point that an event can occur.

Signs/Symptoms may include:

• feeling dizzy
• feeling light-headed
• shortness of breath
• chest pains
• a rapid heartbeat

If it’s so SILENT, how do we try to prevent it?

According to editorialists at The New England Journal of Medicine, “Although pre-participation screening may not be popular in this older group of athletes, education (especially men over 40) about the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease (including the use of performance-enhancing drugs) and the need for proper medical attention is warranted.”

A physical exam by your physician if you are over 40 is not a bad idea before you start training for an endurance race of any kind.

And don’t get lazy. As we have seen with the statistics above, someone who is in good physical condition and has been involved in endurance events/races for many years can STILL be at risk for heart issues. Therefore, follow up appointments throughout your training are also important.

In conclusion—get educated and get checked regularly!

And most importantly, next time you think that because you are an avid jogger or swimmer, or that because you go to the gym that you may be immune from any kind of heart-related issues, think again. If you are a physician or healthcare practitioner and want to further your cardiology knowledge to help your patients avoid cardiac events, visit us at The Wynn in Las Vegas for our CMHC West event May 4-5, 2018! If you would like to stay aware of signs or symptoms, check out our recent blog about risk factors or visit the The American Heart Association’s website.

1Annals of Internal Medicine. http://annals.org/aim/article/2654457/death-cardiac-arrest-u-s-triathlon-participants-1985-2016-cas. September 19, 2017. Accessed October 17, 2017.
2KUSA 9News. Erica Tinsley. Heart attacks killing triathletes during race. http://www.9news.com/news/local/study-heart-attacks-killing-triathletes-during-race-1/477472167. September 20, 2017. Accessed October 17, 2017.
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