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Original Investigation
April 2016

Athletic Cardiac Remodeling in US Professional Basketball Players

Author Affiliations
  • 1Division of Cardiology, Columbia University Medical Center, New York, New York
JAMA Cardiol. 2016;1(1):80-87. doi:10.1001/jamacardio.2015.0252

Importance  The incidence of sudden cardiac death is higher in US basketball players compared with other athlete groups. However, the recognition of the risk for sudden cardiac death among basketball players is challenging because little is known regarding athletic cardiac remodeling in these athletes or athletes of similarly increased size.

Objective  To perform a comprehensive cardiac structural analysis of National Basketball Association (NBA) professional athletes.

Design, Setting, and Participants  Echocardiographic observational study of NBA players on the active rosters for the 2013-2014 and 2014-2015 seasons was performed from December 16, 2013, to December 12, 2014. The policy of the NBA mandates annual preseason stress echocardiograms for each player. The NBA has sanctioned Columbia University Medical Center to conduct annual health and safety reviews of these echocardiograms. Data were analyzed from January to May 2015.

Main Outcomes and Measures  Cardiac variables assessed included left ventricular (LV) size, mass, wall thickness, and hypertrophy patterns and function; left atrial volume; and aortic root diameter. All dimensions were biometrically scaled.

Results  Of the 526 athletes included in the study, 406 (77.2%) were African American and 107 (20.3%) were white, with a mean (SD) age of 25.7 (4.3) years. Mean (SD) athlete height was 200.2 (8.8) cm; mean body surface area, 2.38 (0.19) m2. Left ventricular size and mass in NBA athletes were proportional to body size, extending to the uppermost biometrics of the cohort. Left ventricular hypertrophy was present in 144 athletes (27.4%). African American athletes had increased LV wall thickness (unadjusted mean, 11.2 mm; 95% CI, 11.1-11.3 mm) and LV mass (unadjusted mean, 106.3 g/m2; 95% CI, 104.6-108.0 g/m2) compared with LV wall thickness (unadjusted mean, 10.5 mm; 95% CI, 10.3-10.7 mm; P < .001) and LV mass (unadjusted mean, 102.2 g/m2; 95% CI, 99.0-105.4 g/m2; P = .029) in white athletes. The maximal aortic root diameter in the cohort was 42 mm. Aortic root diameters reached a plateau at the uppermost biometric variables. Five athletes (1.0%) had an LV ejection fraction of less than 50%, and all ventricles augmented normally with exercise.

Conclusions and Relevance  This study provides normative cardiac data for a group of athletes with greater anthropometry than any previously studied athlete group and for a group known to have elevated rates of sudden cardiac death. These data can be incorporated into clinical assessments for the primary prevention of cardiac emergencies in basketball players and the athletic community at large.