In the News: Atrial Fibrillation in Cross Country Skiers

We have talked previously here at the blog about arrhythmias….and specifically about atrial arrhthmias–those that arise in the upper chambers of the heart.

In an interesting study summarized in an article last week at, Norwegian investigators reported on a longitudinal study of cross country skiers, focusing on the development of atrial fibrillation. Starting in 1976, a group of 122 athletes have been followed, with monitoring for the development of arrhythmias. The study is remarkable because of the length (30+ years) of follow-up.

It turns out that, among participants who were alive for the entire period, the prevalence of “lone atrial fibrillation” (that is, without other heart disease) was 12.8%. And this compares to a prevalence of ~0.5% in the general population. Among the athletes with atrial fibrillation, there was also a higher frequency of enlargement of the left atrium and bradycardia (a heart rate
Other studies have also shown an increased prevalence of atrial fibrillation among endurance athletes. It’s not entirely clear yet what the long-term implications might be. And it may well be the case that no specific treatment is needed for athletes who have “lone atrial fibrillation.”

I imagine that more information from this study (and commentary, as well) will become available, and I will share anything else I learn.

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  1. Nancy Krueger says

    Hello from Wisconsin ~ yesterday while skate skiing I found myself quite SOB in the hills. Unusually so. Checked my pulse. As a decades long cardiac OR nurse….I suspected a fib. No other sxs. Back to SR for rest of ski and I cut my loop short.

    Today I checked web sites and found your site and others. Never knew about this before today.

    I am 60 year old female with no cardiac hx or other medical problems (on a statin for cholesterol). ECGs for past 10 years always show left atrial enlargement and bradycardia (low 50s is my normal). Not an elite athlete but fairly fit. Skate skied Birkebeiner 2 weeks ago (slowly as a new skater and fresh snow for race day). I cannot recall these sxs during Birkie.

    What to do next? Ask for a Holter monitor ? We had rain today and I believe yesterday was the last ski of the season here. Stress test? Wait to see if it recurs? I really don’t want to go down the a fib garden path…….

    Thanks so much for your very enlightening post!


    • Larry Creswell, MD says

      Congrats on the Birkebeiner!

      You ask about how to chase down an intermittent arrhythmia. You have the right idea. If it occurs frequently enough, a 24- to 72-hour Holter can be used to capture a recording. If it occurs less frequently, there are 30-day type event recorders that can be used. Getting a recording of the arrhythmia is the usual starting point for sorting out an arrhythmia. I’d also add that a resting EKG, even in the absence of an arrhythmia at the time, can sometimes provide clues about a potential arrhythmia.

      We usually use stress testing to sort out problems with coronary artery disease. Many individuals with arrhythmia troubles have no problem with coronary disease.

      Good luck with evaluation if choose to pursue it.


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