football concussion

Increased Atrial Fibrillation Found in Former NFL Players Interview with:

Dermot Phelan, MD, PhD Director of the Sports Cardiology Center Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio

Dr. Phelan

Dermot Phelan, MD, PhD

Director of the Sports Cardiology Center
Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio What is the background for this study?

Response: It is well recognized that long-term elite endurance athletes are at higher risk of atrial fibrillation.  We wished to evaluate whether this held true for primarily strength-type athletes. We had the opportunity to screen almost 500 former NFL athletes.  It became clear that we were seeing more atrial fibrillation than one would expect during the screenings. What are the main findings?

Response: The main finding of the study was that there was an almost six fold increase in atrial fibrillation in the former players when we compared them to a population control group even after we controlled for other variables associated with atrial fibrillation.  Most of these athletes were asymptomatic and the majority had an indication for anticoagulation to reduce the risk of stroke with this arrhythmia. What should readers take away from your report?

Response: This is an observational study which demonstrates an increased risk of atrial fibrillation in former, elite football players. What recommendations do you have for future research as a result of this work?

Response: Future research should evaluate whether these data translate to other strength type athletes.  We would also like to better define the cause of atrial fibrillation in this cohort. Is there anything else you would like to add?

Response: It is important to recognize that there is a complex relationship between the incidence of atrial fibrillation and exercise.  There is a significant reduction in atrial fibrillation in individuals who exercise regularly compared to a sedentary individuals.  It is really only at the extremes of exercise that we are seeing a signal of increased atrial fibrillation. The message, therefore, should be to encourage people to be active and exercise regularly.

No disclosures for me. Other disclosures are in the manuscript.


Philip Aagaard, Shishir Sharma, David A. McNamara, Parag Joshi, Colby R. Ayers, James A. de Lemos, Andrew E. Lincoln, Bryan Baranowski, Kyle Mandsager, Elizabeth Hill, Lon Castle, James Gentry, Richard Lang, Reginald E. Dunn, Kezia Alexander, Andrew M. Tucker, Dermot Phelan. Arrhythmias and Adaptations of the Cardiac Conduction System in Former National Football League Players. Journal of the American Heart Association, 2019; 8 (15) DOI: 10.1161/JAHA.118.010401


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Last Updated on July 26, 2019 by Marie Benz MD FAAD