Background: regular intensive physical activity is associated with nonpathological changes in cardiac morphology. Differential diagnosis with arrhythmogenic right ventricular cardiomyopathy (ARVC) constitutes a not infrequent problem, especially in athletes showing ventricular arrhythmias with left bundle branch block morphology.
Aim of the study: to assess the different clinical and non invasive instrumental features of subjects affected by ARVC and of athletes. Methods: three groups of subjects (40 ARVC patients, 40 athletes and 40 controls, mean age 27+/- 9 yrs) were examined with family and personal history, physical examination, 12-lead ECG, 24 hour ECG, signal-averaged ECG and 2D-and Doppler echocardiography.
Results: 12-lead ECG was abnormal in 62% of ARVC pts vs 7.5% of athletes and 2.5% of controls (p<0.0001). Ventricular arrhythmias and late potentials were present in 70% and 55 % of ARVC subjects, respectively (vs 5% of athletes and 7.5% of controls, p<0.0001). Left ventricular parietal wall thickness and left ventricular-end diastolic diameters were significantly higher in athletes. Moreover right ventricular (RV) outflow tract, measured on parasternal long axis and at the level of aortic root, was significantly larger in ARVC patients (33.6±4.7 mm vs 29.1±3.4 mm and 35.6±6.8 mm vs 30.1±2.9 mm, p<0.0001) and RV fractional shortening and ejection fraction were significantly lower in ARVC patients compared to athletes (40±7.9% vs 44+/-±10%, p=0.05 and 52.9±8% vs 59.9±4.5%, p<0.0001). A thickened moderator band was found to be present in similar percentage in ARVC patients and athletes.
Conclusion: an accurate clinical and instrumental non invasive evaluation including echocardiography as imaging technique allows to distinguish RV alterations typical of ARVC from those detected in athletes as a consequence of intensive physical activity.