Valvular heart disease affects 1%–2% of young individuals, many of whom aspire to partake in competitive sport or high intensity recreational exercise. There are limited reports on the impact of intensive physical activity on the progression of valvular heart disease; therefore, current recommendations are based on consensus opinion. The management of exercising individuals with valvular heart disease requires a structured approach that incorporates several key factors including symptomatic status, functional capacity, type and nature of the valvular lesion, impact on ventricular structure and function and effect on pulmonary artery pressure. Asymptomatic individuals with minor valvular abnormalities may engage in all forms of competitive sport, whereas those with lesions of moderate severity may exercise intensively if an exercise stress test tailored to the relevant physical activity reveals good functional capacity without myocardial ischaemia, haemodynamic disturbances or arrhythmia. Symptomatic athletes and those with severe valvular heart disease, impaired ventricular function, pulmonary hypertension and arrhythmias should refrain from most competitive sports. Athletes with a bicuspid aortic valve and aortic root diameter >40 mm should avoid sport with a strong isometric component even with minimal valvular dysfunction. There is an association between mitral valve prolapse and sudden cardiac death in the general population; however, there is limited evidence of increased risk with competitive sport. Athletes undergoing corrective surgery may return to exercise after 3 months if ventricular function and exercise capacity are preserved. Individuals anticoagulated for mechanical bioprosthetic valves should avoid contact or collision sport to minimise the risk of bleeding.
- athlete’s heart
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