01:31am Monday 18 December 2017

College football linemen face greater risk of heart problems

Study Highlights:  

  • A study of freshman college athletes found participation in American-style football was associated with significant increases in systolic blood pressure.
  • Although both football linemen and non-linemen were found to have thicker left ventricular heart walls post-season, when compared to non-linemen, the linemen were at higher risk of developing irregularly thickened heart walls.

ORLANDO, Florida — College freshmen who play football linemen positions may face a greater risk of specific heart problems than other players, according to research presented at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Session 2015.

Researchers analyzed the effect of playing American football on the heart in 87 college athletes from pre-season to post-season and found:

  • an increase in systolic blood pressure;

  • an increase in heart muscle wall thickness with a relative decrease in subclinical left ventricular function; and

  • that these functional and structural changes varied by player field position.

    “The most dramatic change is the increase in the incidence of high blood pressure, particularly in the linemen who also have an increased mass of muscle wall and a relative decrease in heart function compared to non-linemen,” said Jeffrey Lin, M.D., study lead author and former cardiology fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. 

    No players in the study had high blood pressure at the beginning of the season. However, by season’s end, nine of the 30 linemen developed it compared to only 4 of the 57 non-linemen.

    “There are physiologic differences between football linemen and non-linemen,” said Lin, who is now a cardiac imaging fellow at Columbia University in New York City. “Non-linemen tend to be quarterbacks and running backs. Linemen tend to be heavier, making them at higher risk for increased high blood pressure and thickness of heart muscle, and potentially decreased heart function over time.”

    Since 2006, Lin and Massachusetts General Hospital colleagues have been studying the physiology of the heart and changes in its structure on freshman athletes.

    “Other research has demonstrated football can have a negative impact on the brain, with increasing attention by the National Football League directed to concussions and how to prevent or treat them,” Lin said. “Now, we are developing an understanding of football’s impact on the structure and function of the heart as well.”

     According to Lin, there are similarities between high school football players, college players, and professional players. Previous data reported that the prevalence of resting hypertension in NFL and college players ranges from 14 percent to 19 percent.

    Co-authors are James DeLuca, B.S.; Frances Wang M.D.; Brank Berkstresser, ATC; Meagan Wasfy, M.D.; Adolph Hutter, M.D.; Rory Weiner, M.D.; and Aaron Baggish, M.D.  Author disclosures are on the abstract.

Additional Resources:

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Statements and conclusions of study authors that are presented at American Heart Association scientific meetings are solely those of the study authors and do not necessarily reflect association policy or position. The association makes no representation or warranty as to their accuracy or reliability. The association receives funding primarily from individuals; foundations and corporations (including pharmaceutical, device manufacturers and other companies) also make donations and fund specific association programs and events. The association has strict policies to prevent these relationships from influencing the science content. Revenues from pharmaceutical and device corporations are available at www.heart.org/corporatefunding.

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