What is Athlete’s Heart?
Athlete’s Heart is a subtle enlargement of the heart that can occur in highly trained athletes. It is mostly asymptomatic; signs include bradycardia, a systolic murmur, and extra heart sounds, but it is important to differentiate it from a serious condition.
Why is it important to monitor Athlete’s Heart?
The sudden collapse of Danish soccer player Christian Eriksen during his country’s match against Finland at the Euro 2020 championships earlier this month sent shockwaves across the stadium in Copenhagen and the world over.
Eriksen had suffered a cardiac arrest and had to receive life-saving cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) on the pitch before he was taken to the hospital.
Even though occurrences are rare, young and fit athletes are not immune to heart injury. Highlighting the importance of remote cardiac monitoring amongst competitive athletes, to detect, manage and in some cases prevent more serious injury or fatalities occurring.
Wearables for cardiac monitoring in athletes
Within the medical and sports community, ECG wearable devices have gained attention with the promise of playing a role in the cardiovascular health of athletes.
Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common clinically significant cardiac arrhythmia. In the general population, exercise is a means to lower risk of AF through decreasing body weight, lowering blood pressure, minimizing sleep apnoea risk, and improving macro- and micro-vascular flow and function.
However, as exercise intensity and duration increase in elite athletes, AF risk also increases.
The most effective way to diagnose an arrhythmia is with an electrical recording of your heart rhythm called an electrocardiogram (ECG/EKG). Typically, an ECG was only accessible in a clinical environment, either in the more common 10 second recording or occasionally with a longer 24h Holter monitor.
Telehealth and the Tokyo Olympics
This year’s Olympic competitors have had more than their fair share of health and wellbeing challenges, from COVID-19 infection to cardiac monitoring, on top of their other general health and increased pandemic pressure.
“Athletes have had to find ways of understanding what they are doing when they’re away from training bases,” says Dr Richard Burden, bioscience, and physiology technical lead with the English Institute of Sport – a government-funded organisation that provides sport science, medical and support services to Olympic and other elite athletes.
This means technologies are needed which can remotely monitor and measure health and performance metrics and provide the athlete and their coaches with instant feedback.
“Athletes need systems that keep them connected, identify relevant information and display it in the simplest way, as quickly as possible with a level of accuracy they can trust,” says Haake.