Black college football players may have an elevated risk of developing a heart condition where the left side of the heart becomes enlarged, says new research. According to sports medicine researchers at Emory University, several factors, including the players' race, weight, blood pressure, and even their position, also influence this risk. The findings were reported in the British Journal of Sports Medicine.
In concentric left ventricular hypertrophy or C-LVH, the heart's main pumping chamber (the left ventricle) thickens and loses elasticity. These anatomical changes disrupt the heart's ability to pump blood from the heart to the rest of the body. Over time, the heart muscle weakens, causing symptoms such as shortness of breath, fatigue, and chest pain after a cardio workout.
A cohort of 300 college American football players was recruited and tracked over five years in this study. The researchers tracked measurements of the athletes' body weights, blood pressures, and other cardiac health markers over this period.
The investigators found that linemen at the tackle, guard, center, or defensive positions developed C-LVH similarly. On the other hand, among non-linemen such as quarterbacks and punters, Black football players were at a higher risk of developing the heart condition. After three years of collegiate football seasons, 24 percent of Black non-linemen developed C-LVH, compared to 8 percent of white athletes.
Sports scientists have been studying a phenomenon known as 'athlete's heart' for some time now, where significant weight gain and sport-specific training regimes can lead to hypertension and an increased risk of C-LVH.
However, the findings of this study demonstrate how race should also be added into the risk calculus for developing the heart condition. According to the researchers, identifying college football players most at risk of early heart disease sooner can be life-changing—access to earlier medical interventions and counseling can help athletes stay healthy long after their college football seasons end.