Our Sports Doctor and West Adelaide Football Club Doctor Dr Angela Moran recently spoke with Rowey and Bicks on FIVEaa about heart conditions in sport and symptoms to be wary of.

Dr Moran’s on-air chat follows St Kilda Defender Dylan Roberton’s recent scare in a pre-season AFL game. The 27-year-old star has been forced to step away from the game indefinitely after experiencing an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) for the second time in two years.

With recent instances of active people experiencing irregular or elevated heartbeats while participating in sport, Dr Moran has provided some key information to understand the symptoms, treatment and management of these cardiac conditions.

Is an irregular or elevated heartbeat common in sport?

Irregular or elevated heartbeats are not uncommon in sport. With the information and technology available to clubs at all levels of competition, training workloads can be managed and monitored to avoid illness or injury.

Humans often experience irregular heartbeats which usually occur in the atrium – the upper part of the heart where blood enters. These are considered normal and throw off a few ‘ectopic beats’ that are benign and not harmful.

Players who compete at an elite or semi-professional club level are often screened quite thoroughly. They will undergo an electrocardiogram (ECG), which detects heart problems by measuring the electrical activity of the heart as it contracts.

Are athletes at higher levels of competition placing greater strain on their heart than a casual sportsperson?

Sportspeople at an elite level who exercise a lot increase the strain on their heart, especially if they are dealing with a viral illness. A viral illness while exercising can place the heart under stress.

We recommend not to exercise with viral illnesses cause that can lead to conditions like cardiomyopathy which is a condition that thickens the heart’s walls and affects the way that the heart muscle pumps.

Exercise is essential to a healthy lifestyle, but excessive training and certain exercises that increase adrenaline to high levels without proper rest may lead to arrhythmia.

What are symptoms of an irregular or elevated heartbeat?

Also known as heart palpitations, an irregular heartbeat associated with exercising can feel like fluttering, skipping or pounding of the heart. Any shortness of breath, chest pain or excessive tiredness when exercising are also warning signals.

Issues with the heart can also sometimes appear out of the blue without warning. Your family history is key to detection. A family history of anyone with cardiac events under the age of 40 requires further investigation.

What are the treatment options if symptoms present?

If you are experiencing any symptoms of an irregular heartbeat or elevated heart rate, contact your GP immediately for a referral to a cardiologist. Cardiac screening and testing can identify any potential concerns that may need medical intervention.

You can’t afford to take risks with your heart particularly as cardiac conditions can be life-threatening. Risk factors can be managed with a healthy diet, moderate exercise, medication and avoiding substances that can contribute to an abnormal heartbeat such as caffeine, tobacco and alcohol. In severe cases, a cardiologist may recommend an implantable cardioverter defibrillator (ICD) which is a life-saving device that can treat fast, irregular heart rhythms.

If you have any concerns with your heart while exercising or participating in sport, contact Dr Moran and our medical team on 08 8362 8111 or at medical@sportsmed.com.au. Our sports doctors can provide a referral to a cardiologist.

Listen to Dr Moran’s interview with Rowey and Ricks below.