Many people with implantable defibrillators can participate in vigorous sports

May 20, 2013 Categories: Heart News

Study Highlights:

  • Many people with implantable defibrillators may safely participate in a number of vigorous sports.
  • The study challenges some current science recommendations advising against vigorous competitive sports for people with implantable defibrillators.
  • People with implantable defibrillators should decide, with their physicians, about whether they can participate in vigorous competitive sports.

EMBARGOED UNTIL 3 p.m. CT/4 p.m. ET, Monday, May 20, 2013
DALLAS, May 20, 2013 — Many people with implantable defibrillators can safely participate in vigorous sports according to new research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation.

An implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) in the chest is somewhat similar to a pacemaker, delivering one or more electrical shocks to restore a normal heartbeat when it detects a dangerous rhythm.

Some science recommendations advise people with ICDs not to participate in competitive sports more vigorous than golf or bowling.

“But these recommendations were based on the best judgment of physicians, not actual data looking at the safety of more rigorous sports,” said Rachel Lampert, M.D., lead author of the study and associate professor of medicine at the Yale School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn.

Researchers followed 372 ICD recipients, ages 10-60, for an average of two-and-a-half years each. They included competitive athletes, high school and college athletes and others who participated in vigorous sports such as running, basketball, soccer, tennis, volleyball, skiing and snowboarding.

In this prospective multinational registry, researchers found that although some athletes received shocks during sports for life-threatening and non-life-threatening heart rhythms, there were no injuries or deaths related to the shocks or the underlying abnormal rhythms.

Seventy-seven people received 121 shocks during the study. Of the total study population:

  • 10 percent received shocks while participating in competition or practice.
  • 8 percent received shocks during other physical activities.
  • 6 percent received shocks while resting.

The rate of shocks among those studied was similar to those reported in previous studies for less active people with implantable defibrillators, Lampert said.

These data suggest that athletes should decide, with their physicians, whether to return to vigorous sports after discussing their specific situation and preferences, Lampert said.

Co-authors are: Brian Olshansky, M.D.; Hein Heidbuchel, M.D.; Christine Lawless, M.D.; Elizabeth Saarel, M.D.; Michael Ackerman, M.D.; Hugh Calkins, M.D.; Mark Estes, M.D.; Mark S. Link, M.D.; Barry J. Maron, M.D.; Frank Marcus, M.D.; Melvin Scheinman, M.D.; Bruce L. Wilkoff, M.D.; Douglas P. Zipes, M.D.; Charles I. Berul, M.D.; Alan Cheng, M.D.; Ian Law, M.D.; Michele Loomis, APRN; Cheryl Barth, B.S.; Cynthia Brandt, M.D.; James Dziura, Ph.D; Fangyong Li, M.S. and David Cannom, M.D. Author disclosures are on the manuscript.

Boston Scientific, Medtronic and St. Jude Medical funded the study.

Read more from the American Heart Association about abnormal heart rhythms and living with an ICD.

For the latest heart and stroke news, follow us on Twitter: @HeartNews.

For updates and new science from Circulation, follow @CircAHA.

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