Differentiation between athlete's heart and dilated cardiomyopathy in athletic individuals

Lynne Martina Millar, Zephryn Fanton, Gherardo Finocchiaro, Gabriel Sanchez-Fernandez, Harshil Dhutia, Aneil Malhotra, Ahmed Merghani, Michael Papadakis, Elijah R Behr, Nick Bunce, David Oxborough, Matthew Reed, Jamie O'Driscoll, Maria Teresa Tome Esteban, Andrew D'Silva, Gerry Carr-White, Jessica Webb, Rajan Sharma, Sanjay Sharma

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


OBJECTIVE: Distinguishing early dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM) from physiological left ventricular (LV) dilatation with LV ejection fraction <55% in athletes (grey zone) is challenging. We evaluated the role of a cascade of investigations to differentiate these two entities.

METHODS: Thirty-five asymptomatic active males with DCM, 25 male athletes in the 'grey zone' and 24 male athletes with normal LV ejection fraction underwent N-terminal pro-brain natriuretic peptide (NT-proBNP) measurement, ECG and exercise echocardiography. Grey-zone athletes and patients with DCM underwent cardiovascular magnetic resonance (CMR) and Holter monitoring.

RESULTS: Larger LV cavity dimensions and lower LV ejection fraction were the only differences between grey-zone and control athletes. None of the grey-zone athletes had abnormal NT-proBNP, increased ectopic burden/complex arrhythmias or pathological late gadolinium enhancement on CMR. These features were also absent in 71%, 71% and 50% of patients with DCM, respectively. 95% of grey-zone athletes and 60% of patients with DCM had normal ECG. During exercise echocardiography, 96% grey-zone athletes increased LV ejection fraction by >11% from baseline to peak exercise compared with 23% of patients with DCM (p<0.0001). Peak LV ejection fraction was >63% in 92% grey-zone athletes compared with 17% patients with DCM (p<0.0001). Failure to increase LV ejection fraction >11% from baseline to peak exercise or achieve a peak LV ejection fraction >63% had sensitivity of 77% and 83%, respectively, and specificity of 96% and 92%, respectively, for predicting DCM.

CONCLUSION: Comprehensive assessment using a cascade of routine investigations revealed that exercise stress echocardiography has the greatest discriminatory value in differentiating between grey-zone athletes and asymptomatic patients with DCM. Our findings require validation in larger studies.

Original languageEnglish
Early online date27 Apr 2020
Publication statusPublished - 2020


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