Currently, there is no standardized way to screen for susceptibility to exercise-induced heart scarring or other cardiac abnormalities. But through a combination of ECGs, echocardiograms, treadmill stress testing, and MRIs, you can make an informed decision about whether to cut back on endurance runs. Testing is expensive (a cardiac MRI runs about $3,600) but may be worth the peace of mind, particularly if you have any of the following risk factors.
BLACKING OUT: “A lot of people collapse after intense races,” says cardiologist Keith George. “That’s not uncommon even in healthy people.” But if you have blacked out, see your doctor: it could be a symptom of an underlying heart condition.
FAMILY HISTORY OF HEART DISEASE: The leading cause of sudden cardiac death in athletes under 30 is hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, which is considered congenital. For those over 30, the number-one killer is coronary artery disease, for which genetics can increase risk despite a healthy diet. Let your doctor know if anyone in your family has died prematurely from or been diagnosed with heart disease.
PERSONAL HISTORY OF HEART DISEASE: Runner Ryan Shay was diagnosed with an enlarged heart at age 14 and was told he might need a pacemaker. He collapsed and died at the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in 2007 at age 28. Make sure your doctor keeps tabs on any abnormal findings, and let him or her know about big upcoming events.