Hypertrophic cardiomyopathy (HCM) is the single most common reason of sudden death in young athletes and is characterized by a heart muscle that thickens, or grows, out of control. It can be found in 1 out of about every 200-500 people in the general population.
This condition occurs without an underlying cause such as high blood pressure or aortic valve disease. The condition is inherited through genes. The thickening of the heart muscle and an abnormally functioning valve in the heart (mitral valve) may block normal blood flow out of the heart and increase the risk of arrhythmias, or abnormal electrical rhythms of the heart.
Many people with HCM can have no symptoms or only minor symptoms and live a normal life. For some people however, especially young athletes, this blockage of blood flow out of the heart or arrhythmias can lead to chest pain, pressure, shortness of breath, palpitations, fainting, or even sudden death. HCM is diagnosed in the following ways:
- By taking a careful medical history (symptoms and family history)
- A physical exam
- Through several tests of the heart such as an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, or cardiac MRI
If there is evidence of thickening of the heart muscle with a diagnosis of HCM, it is recommended that these athletes do not participate in competitive sports. A cardiologist should evaluate the athlete, as well as the family, for this heart condition.
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