Heart Rhythm Community
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Avatar universal

Ex-NFL player looking for heart help.

Hello all, I am a 27 year old, ex professional football player (1 year split between 2 NFL teams), who has recently entered the world of heart related issues. About a year after i stopped playing, I decided to spend the rest of my life taking care of my body, after so many years of destroying it. I have always led a clean life (No drugs, no supplements, no smoking, no alcohol) except for the stresses of football, mostly the body weight (I was 6'5'' inches tall and 310 pounds at my biggest). After getting out of football, i began eating a mostly unprocessed and vegetarian diet, which resulted in losing 90 pounds (I now weigh 220), as well as a general improvement in all of my metabolic panels. Despite these improvements, I had what was believed to be a polarization abnormality occur on an electrocardiogram test, which in turn led to a stress test, echo-cardiogram, and cardiac MRI at the Cleveland Clinic (one of the best heart centers in the world). They thought I might of had Hypertrophic Cardiomyopathy (HCM), but all tests came back fine, my heart was structurally normal. They did document though, that when I go from a standing to a sitting position, or from a sitting to a standing position, that the polarization of my heart is slightly abnormal, but my cardiologist, as well as the cardiologist at Cleveland, felt all my tests were fine, and that I was good to go so to speak. Long story short, neither of the cardiologist really explained to me why they felt the depolarization was fine though it was "abnormal", and at the time i wasn't as medically versed as I am now (I am going into my 3rd year of Nursing School to get my RN-BSN) to understand the implications of a heart problem, such as, sudden cardiac death. Along with not understanding why they OK'd me, I have been experiencing some palpation's during exercise. They have been very infrequent, i think only 3-4 occurrences in the past 15 months since my tests, but noticeable nonetheless. It's only occurred on days where I have exercised at a very high, NFL caliber level, which I rarely do these days, most of my training is just to stay in decent "life" shape. I never get dizzy, or experience any symptoms other than the irregular beat, but when they occur, I must admit, they scare me a little. My heart will beat at a high rate, which I would expect at a high level workout, but then my heart will randomly pause for a second, usually when I take a big breath for air, then return to its high, but consistent and evenly spaced beat, it might pause three or four times over the course of a minute till I get some of my breath back. Other than that, I have been fine, and I must again state that I have no other symptoms other than the pauses, and the bit of anxiety/fear I get when they occur. I currently do not have medical insurance, as I have been putting every dime towards school, I am in the process of getting it back in the next couple months, but was hoping I might be able to get some insight from a Doctor or fellow forum member on here. I guess after surviving 27 years of football, I was hoping to not end up as so many of my fellow players, that being, dead by 60, or sooner sadly.

Thank you very much in advance to anyone who can help, and I will definitely be having this exact conversation with my cardiologist when I get one in a couple months.  

P.S. the pauses are very distinctive, I have felt my heart completely stop/pause for a second both in my chest as well as at my jugular, and I guess I am concerned as to how "normal" it is for a person's heart to stop, especially when I would think it should beat continuously at a high level when I am sp oxygen deprived from the lifting?
5 Responses
1807132 tn?1318747197
I am not a doctor so I can't give you a clean bill of health.  I can only go by my own personal experience as a person with life long heart rhythm issues.  I am not that familiar with polarization issues but what I have learned over the years is that in general, if your heart is healthy and there is an absence of severe symptoms like shortness of breath, chest pain or passing out, most issues that are documented as abnormal are generally benign and not a threat to the person.  Obviously every case is different but most cardiologists will be very frank if there is or isn't an issue so if you had 2 cardiologists unconcerned about your polarization issue then I would not concern yourself with it too much.  As for the pauses you wont' know for certain exactly what it is until you have it captured on a monitor .  That said, from what you describe it sounds like you likely have run of the mill ectopic beats.  Pacs (Premature Atrial Contractions) or pvcs, (premature ventricular contraction)  Both of which are also benign in a healthy heart.  The medical community deems them rather normal though most won't feel them.  I tend to think they aren't as normal as the medical community claims especially for those who have hundreds and thousands a day but research has shown, that a healthy heart will not suffer any undue stress or duress because of them.  So in general if your heart is healthy and you do not have any accompanying worrisome symptoms you likely don't have anything to worry about though it is best to get that diagnosis from a doctor.  I would say to keep up with your healthy routine and if you notice that the ectopic beats act up a lot when you exercise at a certain you might consider taking it down just a notch and see if that would help.  But it is not uncommon for them to pop in as you are ramping up or down your routine.  So that is what I know.  Hopefully someone will jump on who knows more about polarization but in general I think you are likely as healthy as can be.  Take care and best of luck with your degree.
1124887 tn?1313758491

I'm not a doctor, but I still wanted to share some thoughts.

I assume your doctors have found a repolarization issue on your ECG (usually shown as an inverted or otherwise abnormal T wave).

Athletes very often have abnormal ECGs according to the textbook, however, their ECG is usually normal for them. Abnormalities are often complete or incomplete right bundle branch block, or even more common, so-called "strain patterns" from a well-grown heart muscle. When seeing this, doctors often suspect HCM, just like your doctor did. And while it's true that HCM exist in athletes (and sometimes has severe consequences), most athletes have a thickened heart muscle without any cardiomyopathy.

When you exercise, your heart grows, but in the same dimensions as a normal heart. Your increased blood pressure during exercise will make the walls thicken, but the high blood volume pumped during (aerobic) exercise will also make the inner volume increase. So the heart is shaped just like it was, only larger. With high blood pressure (the disease) or HCM, only the walls will grow, and when they do, they do not contribute to any better pumping effect, rather the opposite, as they grow inwards. When this has gone far enough, the walls may actually block blood outflow (obstructive cardiomyopathy). Needless to say, this is fairly severe.

Also, in the setting of abnormal wall growth, the walls will stiffen and not relax properly when the heart is filling (so-called diastolic dysfunction). Which is bad as well.

Anyway, an ECG can't differ between "healthy" heart growth and unhealthy heart growth. All the ECG can pick up, is an elevated electrical current from a larger muscle. If you placed an electrode on your biceps when lifting, it would show a higher current than mine (I'm in "normal" shape, exercising twice a week, but no athlete).

Your heart is examined with MRI and ultrasound, which are far better at picking up abnormalities than an ECG, and found healthy. An ECG is useful for screening, as it usually reveals if something is wrong. But it has a lot of false positives.

To your "pauses", they are very likely to be PACs or PVCs, as Michelle explained. If they happen very frequently during exercise, a stress test is appropriate, but most of us can throw a random PAC or PVC during exercise as well as during rest. In my case, it happens if I for some reason am nervous during exercise. The reason why you feel it as a pause, is because the premature beat happens so early in the HR cycle that it doesn't produce a pulse. The next beat is often stronger than normal.

I think your heart is healthy. Good luck :)
Avatar universal
Thank you both so very much for your insights. Adjusting to life after football has been  quite a challenge, and the year of medical testing i went through, as I mentioned before, was extremely stressful, especially after losing a fellow player and friend to HCM. It will take some time to overcome the anxiety I developed over the issue, but I am sure that I will be able to move forward living a healthy life, especially with the support and knowledge of wonderful people such as yourselves. Again, many thanks for your experiences and information, and I hope to return the help and insight to you someday.
612551 tn?1450025775
I read mostly from interest, not knowledge.... and I am happy to see you got some of our best knowledge-base input.   As they noted, they are not medical doctors, neither am I.

I can relate in a couple of ways:  I was 6'6" and weighed as much as 250 pounds, but was a runner, not a football player.  Still I had a number of risk factors including smoking until the age of 45.  I did a life style change and I know there was a long period (about 20 years) when I told myself "I'm not getting older, I'm getting better" and here I as just referring to my physical strength - lighter, faster, and generally feeling stronger.  I'd guess your going down 90 pounds was felt as if your legs are stronger - as a foot ball player (defense?) at 310 I'm sure your legs were already very strong.

From what you say, and the good input you got already I can say only this:
1) Keep up the good work
2) Keep a positive outlook
3) Follow up and report any changes with your doctor
4) Keep you mind focused on your new career, I'm sure you'll be a great addition to what ever medical team you join.

Merry Christmas,
Jerry in New Jersey.
995271 tn?1463927859
Probably PVCs.    I get them too.  I used to train at a very intense level during my 20s, I was in awesome shape.  I got them then too at the rate you've described and nothing ever came of it.  I'm 45 now, still feel great.  As I've aged I've gotten other types of episodes and I'm still going just fine.  I always tell the story about my Grandmother who was always getting them, she would get scared and go to the ER.  She died when she was 96 and it wasn't her heart that got her.  To be honest that dang thing would not quit when it would have been merciful.

Here's are some key points that I've learned over the years about PVCs.

-Any cell in the heart can pace.  It just so happens that the cells in the sino atrial node have the fastest pace and hence drive the normal heart rate.  The beat of a normal heart is a wonderfully engineered sequence of events.  Study it, it's fantastic!

-Your ventricles have most of the muscle mass in the heart.  The atria can be in complete chronic fibrillation and your ventricles will keep you going just fine.   This is why when they don't fire right you can really feel it.

-Cells in your ventricles tend to pace at about 50 bpm, so they never usually initiate a beat.

-If for some reason a cell in the ventricles fires our of order, it's called "ectopic" or "premature".  When this happens, the electrical discharge is so much different from a normal beat that you can feel the thump and what will feel like a pause.  The reason for the feelings are due to things like Hydraulic shock, because instead of the atria and ventricles working in sync they are pumping at the same time.  Also, the ventricles don't contract at the same time as when they do when their signal comes down the AV node (normal), the discharge propagates across the ventricles so the right and left ventricle don't contract at the same time as usual.  The pause you feel is because the normal pacer gets blocked by the premature beat and the ventricles have to wait for the next sino beat to come its way, so technically it's not really a pause.

-When cells outside the sino atrial node fire it's called "enhanced automaticity".  EA can be further be aggravated by compounds like adrenaline, caffeine, hormones, and can also be aggravated by nerve cells into your hear called the parasympathetic and sympathetic nerve bundles.

-When you inhale and exhale our hearts go faster and slower respectively, it's called "sinus arrhythmia", it's controlled by your central nervous systems, and those nerves I mentioned above.  This is why sometimes taking a deep breath can trigger a PVC.

-The fact that any cell can take over pacing for the heart is a great backup.  If for some reason, the AV doesn't send the sino atrial signal to the ventricles, something called "escape rhythm" takes over.  Studying escape rhythm has given me more insights into how the heart works, read up on it.  

I'm assuming what you felt were PVCs based on my own experience and feelings.  It might not be them and you shouldn't take my word for it.  The only way to know for sure is by catching them on an event/holter monitor.

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