Background: Studies in adult athletes have found irreversible reduction in right ventricular (RV) deformation with signs of fibrosis in a subset of the athletes. Reduced RV function in athletes has been found to be a pro-arrhythmic substrate.
Purpose: This study aims to improve our understanding of how endurance exercise in preadolescent athletes impacts the LV and RV function.
Methods: Seventy-six cross-country skiers aged 12.1±0.2 years were compared to a control group of 25 non-competing individuals aged 12.1±0.3 years. Echocardiography was performed in all subjects including 2D speckle-tracking strain echocardiography of both ventricles. Left ventricular (LV) global longitudinal strain (GLS) and RV GLS were calculated by averaging 16 LV and 3 RV free wall segments, respectively. All participants underwent cardiopulmonary exercise testing to assess oxygen-uptake and exercise capacity.
Results: While there was no difference in LV GLS, the controls had higher RV GLS than the athletes (Table). There was no difference with regards to LV ejection fraction and RV fractional area change. Athletes had greater indexed RV basal and mid-ventricular diameter, as well as greater RV end-diastolic and end-systolic area (Table). Athletes had greater VO2 max.
Conclusion: Increasing attention is being paid to the potential consequences of the remodeling seen in the heart of endurance athletes. This study supports the notion that cardiac changes are occurring as early as in preadolescent athletes, and that RV function might be key in evaluating and monitoring this growing population.