Doctors Treating More Athletes For Atrial Fibrillation
PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — He went out for a team run when suddenly his chest felt funny and his vision closed down for a few minutes.
“In my mind, I’m thinking, ‘Naw, you must be dehydrated.’ So I took off running again, and I ran the three-mile loop,” says 51-year-old Mark Marshall, a professional wrestler from Latrobe. “I had no idea I was in A-fib.”
Mark had atrial fibrillation. Typical risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol and advanced age. Mark had none of these.
“I work out every day, I eat very good, I don’t do anything that’s crazy, I run, I lift, I wrestle. I was really, really shocked by this,” he says.
“It seems to be more common in certain types of endurance athletes. There’s an athletic side to it, but also a predisposition side to it. I think in that combination of patients we’re seeing some more atrial fibrillation then we’ve recognized previously,” says Allegheny General Hospital cardiologist Dr. Amit Thosani.
He sees runner, cyclists and other well-conditioned athletes with slow resting heart rates who unexpectedly and for unclear reasons turn out to have atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is an irregular, rapid heart rhythm. Parts of the heart generate extra heart beat signals, which causes the two smaller, upper chambers to beat out of coordination with the two larger lower chambers.
Mark was treated with shocks to the heart to get it back into a normal rhythm, twice. The longest it worked was a week and a half. He didn’t want long term medication.
He opted for ablation, where doctors thread a catheter into the groin, up through the blood vessels, to the heart, and zap the tissue where the abnormal rhythm signals are coming from.
“When I was in the OR, on the table, I was scared to death,” he said.
Scared of something going wrong, scared of possibly dying.
“Very rarely stroke and heart attack are a risk of the procedure,” says Dr. Thosani.
Mark’s procedure was a year and a half ago. He has returned to training, won the U.S. Open freestyle wrestling competition this spring, and is going to Serbia to contend in the world championship. Then, he plans to retire from competition and coach.
“I’m not going to miss this opportunity. This is going to be my last one. It’s amazing how great I feel,” he says. “I tell my wife, I feel like I’m 18.”
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