Former NFL players were more likely to have enlarged aortas, but further study is needed to determine whether that puts them at greater risk for life-threatening aneurysms, researchers found. The former National Football League players were twice as likely to have enlarged aortas as those in a control group, even after adjusting for their typically larger size and other factors, said researchers with the Dallas Heart Study at UT Southwestern Medical Center, from which the control group was drawn. “Whether that translates to the same risk for these former elite athletes as a dilated, or enlarged, aorta does for the general population is unclear,” said cardiologist Dr. Parag Joshi, Assistant Professor of Internal Medicine and one of the study’s authors. “Is this a normal adaptation from having trained at the elite level throughout their youth, or is this a bad adaptation that puts them more at risk for problems?” Former linemen – players who tend to be larger and engage in more strength training than non-linemen – were more likely to cross the threshold into the enlarged aorta range, suggesting that increased aortic diameter is an adaptation to the demands placed on a player’s heart during his career, said co-author and fellow cardiologist Dr. James de Lemos, Professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Director for the Dallas Heart Study. Nearly 30 percent of the former NFL players studied had enlarged aortas compared with less than 9 percent in the comparison group from the Dallas Heart Study, a one-of-a-kind population-based study to identify new genetic, protein, and imaging biomarkers that can detect cardiovascular disease at its earliest stages, when prevention is most effective.
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