AF mostly associated with athletes?

I’ve recently read: “AFib is a condition common to people who maintain high heart rates over extended periods of time. For example most marathon and endurance type athletes will end up getting AFib when they perform their activities over many years. ... life-long endurance athletes such as left ventricular hypertrophy (enlarged lower left chamber of the heart) and consequently leaky mitral valves (heart valve between left atrium and left ventrical). Over a long period of many years…” In other words it suggests Afib has a strong correlation with athletic activity and the people who most suffer it tend to be athletes. Do the statistics bear this out? Are athletes the largest group of people who suffer atrial fibrillation? If not, what is the largest group in danger of having afib?

23 Replies

  • The most athletic I get is when I run out of time to do something or jump to conclusions :) I know AF occurs in top athletes but, I am sure Bob will confirm or contradict, I thought the tendency to get it had to be there first.

  • I want to double-like this reply Eatsalottie!

  • @Eatsalottie I think your tendency theory is right!! Recently at Lund University in Sweden, a scientist thereworking also with UK and USA scientists/ dr's discovered 9 genetic polymorphisms for a tendency to get afib. All that is needed is the proper trigger. (genetic polymorphism is a small genetic glitch which causes a tendency for something to occur)

  • Further to Eatsalottie's witty post, I tend to agree with what Dr Gupta said in the video posted yesterday - that there is a tendency of AF being inherited. On my father's side of tha family I had an aunt and 2 cousins with it. Dr Gupta indicated that it is more likely over the age of 65 which makes it difficult to track as Dad died at 65, Grandad at 59', his father at 51 and his father at 32.

    Gardening and job apart, my physical exertions were/are minimal.

  • Nothing remotely sporty in my background, but both parents had strokes which may indicate undiagnosed af. Also have two male cousins with the condition. On the other hand my partner was a racing cyclist and he has af but because he was so fit and didn't fit into the NICE guidelines as they were then defined, was not anticoagulant resulting in stroke.

  • Yes, it does affect athletes and people who have perhaps asked too much of their hearts, and can be inherited, but It can just as easily go for people with no heart problems in the family who have never overdone things, lived prudently and thought they'd looked after themselves.

    AFers are so often encouraged to abandon caffeine and alcohol, to lose weight and move to a healthy diet, so it must also attack those who live life rather too well, come to conclusions slowly and live organised lives.

  • Endurance athletes do have a tendency to be it high risk of AF due to their exercise regimes which alter the structure of the atria which in turn gives rise to rogue electrical pulses.

    And, as the others have suggested, many other people are effected who are not athletic. My father had AF although was not treated for it so my understanding is that there is a genetic component but as Rellim points out, we can help ourselves by making life style changes.

  • OK lets go back to basic principles as my old physics master would say.

    In order to have AF you need a pre-disposition to it. This can be genetic or acquired. The possibility of AF also increases with age and activity.

    Now if your heart happens to be built in a particular way then you will have the possibility of getting AF as you age or even much earlier. A few people get it from quite young ages although the vast majority with AF will be past middle age.

    Now for the fun bit where we couch potatoes go ya boo to the lycra brigade. Endurance athletes work their hearts much harder than design specification so something happens. The left atria starts to grow bigger and as it does the natural electrical pathways become stretched and start to break down allowing additional ones to form. I liken it to spilling coffee on your keyboard so that random letters appear. Soon you have full blown AF in a person who otherwise would not have it. This is acquired AF. Now just to add another dimension, literally, the air. A third class of person is also likely to get AF and that is fast jet (fighter) pilots. The work their hearts have to do maintaining blood in their brains against massive G forces (nine times to force of gravity ) can also induce acquired AF for the same mechanical reasons. I am told that the incident of AF in such people is disproportionately higher than in similar aged control groups.

    So yes if you take athletes and compare to similar aged non athletes then you will likely see more with AF but they form a relatively small proportion of total numbers since as I said earlier the vast majority will be very much older. I believe one in three over 80 will have it for example but don't quote me on that statistic.

    That is always the problem with reading too much, we always find something out of context.

    Hope that explains.


  • All the comments make a lot of sense and just as there are many different ways to get to a particular destination, the journey to AF is no different. Some routes are obvious , ie extended periods of over-exertion as seen in athletes, whilst others may be more convoluted. We have all arrived at destination AF, but our journeys may well be very different!

  • I have AF. I'm no endurance athlete, but since being a kid I have played competitive sport. I also in my 20's burnt the candle at both ends and probably pushed my heart to its limit . I turned 40 and developed AF. No other heart related condition, or any other condition come to think of it. I am the only member of my family paternal and maternal sides to have AF. I have friends who have led identical lifestyles to me, some pushed and still push their body to the limits physically and socially, but have no issues, so far. As Bob and so many others state a possible predisposition could be the link to if and when you get AF, which I agree with. I also like so many things in life think it is luck if the drawer.

  • @jason71 In retrospect I realize that I had pushed my heart to it's limits by working too hard": the job starting early, commuting, walkin 4 miles a day round trip eek to and from commuter bus in city to job site; low impact aerobic class, and step class ( 2 nights per week at gym) each class followed by wieght training and a swim. when single, going out dancing and having a couple of drinks. All sounds like great fun.l vacations always involved extensive excercise like long hikes, treks, horseriding camping. I would say I did not get enough rest/sleep/ recovery. Although I felt thqt I did and felt perfectly fine at the time. The left atrium became dilated somewhat and the left ventricle wall slightly enlarged. My brother who takes karate and weight trains, and has a private commercial film company.does not have afib but does have a l thicker keft ventricle wall. Cardiologists who are used to seeing only sick people and do not deal with athletes cannot easily determkine if this extra thixckness is evedence of health or illness. Also after a catheterization to look for something bad that was suspected but turned out not to be there, the dr. told me my heart functioned like that of an endurance athlete and I was fine---but I still was there for a sometimes rapid heart beat and I still have afib now 4 years after that dr. test. The afib was treted 8 months ago, successfully by an ablation and some low dose drugs. The genetic tendency and the athletic stuff probably helped the afib to happen-- but then there were many expoosures to my previously unknown by me, triggers.

  • I think my father probably had AF, and he was very athletic (in 1936 Olympics) and stayed very energetic all his life. He died of a massive stroke aged 97, after 20 or more years with unstable BP and arrhythmia. I now have AF, and am not athletic at all, though have been reasonably physically active. But I did have polymyalgia rheumatica a few years ago. This is an autoimmune disease, and there is a known association with AF. So is it nature, nurture, or just bad luck?

  • Your post made me smile, as I never go to a gym or really exercise, I consider doing the house work and gardening as exercising. But I am certainly not a gymnast.😊

  • I wouldn't call myself an endurance athlete, but I have done quite a lot of exercise throughout my life.

    I used to train twice a week swimming, was a fair weather cyclist with my maximum distance ever probably about 30miles, used to go horse riding every week, did cross country running, and every weekend and holiday would be spent walking in the countryside. Walking has always been my love and what I'm most annoyed about with AF is losing the ability to do long walks.

    My mother had AF diagnosed just before she died of cancer age 60 and my cousin has AF too.


  • ive got Afib been sportsman all my life, now 60 thought i was looking after myself, wy don't doctors tell you, you might end up with AFIB if you do to much exersise.

  • I am a 65yr old female and have been a long distance runner for 35 years. Perfect health up until a year ago. Started having trouble breathing and heart palps while running....went to cardiologist and found out I have afib. Talk about shock!!!! I weigh 104lbs,eat right,exercise and do everything that is right "supposedly" All my heart tests came back enlargement of the heart in atria, zero calcium score perfect!!! Tried meds for 2months and then decided to do cryoablation.

    I live in the States...went to top EP in Chicago and had the ablation 3months ago and am running again with no symptoms at all :) Doc said they do many many athletes including the pro football players as young as 30. Their hospital do 300 ablations a year.

    Read many of the articles on athletes and afib shows up more in masters endurance athletes maybe something to do with oxidative stress. No family history at all of afib so this really bummed me out and scared me. Doc is keeping me on eliquis for now and at my next appt will wear a heart monitor for a month and if all is well then off the eliquis.

    Sometimes we do all the right things and "s**t" happens but I wonder if I wasn't in good health what might have happened?????? I am lucky I did not have to wait a long time for the ablation as I have read that many of you have. From the diagnosis to the ablation time was only 6months.

    Good luck to all

    Happy Trails..........

    geegee :)

  • Geegee26 I assume you went to the Cleveland clinic. A great hospital.

  • I went to Northwestern University Blum cardiology In Chicago. A great hospital 👍

  • Geegee- can you share the name of your EP? I live in the Chicago area. I'm 52 and have run 13 marathons and countless halves. Been in and out of afib for the last couple of weeks. I'd like to get a second opinion before I select a path. Currently on no drugs.

  • Chris,

    Saw Dr. Chicos at Bluhm Cardiology at Northwestern downtown Chicago. I was not on any meds when I saw him and then he gave me metopoprol at first. I tried it for awhile and couldn't run with it so I decided to go with cryroablation. It has been 7months since ablation and just finished running 6miles today no problem.

    Please feel free to private message me for more details if you want...I know this can be very frustrating and scary. Race season is soon approaching!!

    Go to Bluhms website they are tops!!

  • Thanks for getting back to me so quickly! I appreciate the information will be following up. I'm happy the procedure has worked well for you. I agree afib is very frustrating.


  • I'd have said this forum must be indicative of the type of people that get AF. So guess it must be age first, followed by athletes. There does also seem to be more women than men, I've not counted though, but maybe that's just because they communicate more?

  • I come from a big. extended family and we have now tracked afib across both sides.... but few of the sufferers fit the most common categories as described above. We would make a great research project for someone!

    The morning after my ablation the registrar asked me two questions. Is this your first ablation? Is it in the family?

    Yes and yes.....I am over 65, slim, fit, non smoker and almost non drinker. Disadvantage was.... as a result..... my gp took ages to decide I might have af!

You may also like...