Updated April 13, 2018
At this time, there is no research data available that shows the frequency of heart arrhythmias among endurance athletes. Doctors are accustomed to treating the sick and unhealthy, so heart conditions among otherwise very healthy endurance athletes often go unnoticed or misdiagnosed.
But after the publication of Chris Case’s groundbreaking VeloNews article, Cycling to Extremes, in the August, 2015 issue, Zinn, Case, and Dr. John Mandrola were overwhelmed with the response from the athlete community. Men, women, cyclists, runners, athletes from all arenas of sport and from all around the globe reached out to share their own stories of heart scares and their treatments. Their response inspired The Haywire Heart: How too much exercise can kill you, and what you can do to protect your heart, which has just released in a paperback edition.
Haywire Heart authors Lennard Zinn and Chris Case have compiled a list of current and former professional athletes who have heart arrhythmias that they’ve acknowledged publicly. Heart arrhythmias are not isolated to the pros, however. Take a look at the Warning Signs: Symptoms of Athlete’s Heart Conditions and also consider whether your love of sports might be an addiction that could cause future heart problems with this Exercise Addiction Quiz for Athletes.
3x World Cyclocross Champion, Belgian
Unspecified, life-threatening arrhythmia
12-time NBA All-Star basketball player
8x Olympic gold medalist in kayaking
professional tennis player
World Cup alpine ski racer
unspecified arrhythmia; underwent ablation in 2011 and returned to competition
Former professional cyclist and Tour de France podium finisher
Atrial tachycardia at a young age; treated with ablation with no further recurrence
2018 Winter Olympics gold medalist and three-time silver medalist
Billie Jean King
39x Grand Slam champion and 20x Wimbledon champion tennis player
Atrial fibrillation; underwent ablation
Canadian national off-road triathlon champion
5x Tour de France and Giro d’Italia winner, 3x World Road Champion
Unspecified arrhythmia. A cardiologist who examined him at the 1968 Giro d’Italia concluded that Merckx had non-obstructive hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, a genetic condition in which the heart muscle thickens, affecting its functioning. Read more on velonews.com.
4x American cyclocross champion
Former professional cyclist and national champion in cycling, duathlon, and triathlon
Former WorldTour cyclist and 4x world time trial champion
congenital bicuspid aortic valve in 2001, unspecified arrhythmia in 2016
Diagnosed in 2015 with Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome, a congenital syndrome in which an extra electrical pathway in the heart causes a rapid heartbeat. His condition was treated successfully.
American national champion (and first cyclist to appear on a Wheaties box, Lennard notes)
Ironman and triathlon world champion
14-time NBA All-Star basketball player
Atrial fibrillation, successfully treated and returned to racing in 2012
Case Studies from The Haywire Heart:
The Haywire Heart features nine athletes in “Case Study” interviews that explore the exercise habits that triggered a heart arrhythmia and how each athlete has treated, adapted to, or ignored their condition.
Highly symptomatic paroxysmal atrial fibrillation
Cyclist and cross-country skier
Heart failure due to dilated cardiomyopathy
Premature ventricular complexes
Premature ventricular complexes
6x Ironman World Champion
Atrial flutter and atrial fibrillation
Cyclist and mountaineer