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RSNA: Enlarged Heart in Older Athletes May Mask Disease

Increase in left ventricular mass could be effect of training or sign of early cardiac disease

TUESDAY, Nov. 28 (HealthDay News) -- In marathon runners over age 50, it may be difficult to distinguish the effects of training on the heart and early signs of cardiac disease, according to research presented this week at the annual meeting of the Radiological Society of North America in Chicago.

Stefan Moehlenkamp, M.D., Ph.D., of the University Hospital in Essen, Germany, and colleagues conducted magnetic resonance imaging scans of 110 men, aged 50 to 72, who had completed at least five marathons in the last three years. The subjects had no current symptoms or known history of cardiovascular disease or diabetes.

The researchers found that the subjects' average left ventricular mass was significantly higher than that of the general population (141 grams versus 77.5 grams). The higher cardiac mass may make it more difficult to determine if runners have early signs of heart disease, the authors explain.

"It is difficult to differentiate an athlete's heart from one that has disease," Moehlenkamp said in a statement. "Establishing criteria for what is normal in marathon runners of advanced age is one of the team's research goals."

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