The response of the pulmonary circulation and right ventricle to exercise: exercise-induced right ventricular dysfunction and structural remodeling in endurance athletes (2013 Grover Conference series)


There is unequivocal evidence that exercise results in considerable health benefits. These are the result of positive hormonal, metabolic, neuronal, and structural changes brought about by the intermittent physiological challenge of exercise. However, there is evolving evidence that intense exercise may place disproportionate physiological stress on the right ventricle (RV) and the pulmonary circulation. Both echocardiographic and invasive studies are consistent in demonstrating that pulmonary arterial pressures increase progressively with exercise intensity, such that the harder one exercises, the greater the load on the RV. This disproportionate load can result in fatigue or damage of the RV if the intensity and duration of exercise is sufficiently prolonged. This is distinctly different from the load imposed by exercise on the left ventricle (LV), which is moderated by a greater capacity for reductions in systemic afterload. Finally, given the increasing RV demand during exercise, it may be hypothesized that chronic exercise–induced cardiac remodeling (the so-called athlete's heart) may also disproportionately affect the RV. Indeed, there is evidence, although somewhat inconsistent, that RV volume increases may be relatively greater than those for the LV. Perhaps more importantly, there is a suggestion that chronic endurance exercise may cause electrical remodeling, predisposing some athletes to serious arrhythmias originating from the RV. Thus, a relatively consistent picture is emerging of acute stress, prolonged fatigue, and long-term remodeling, which all disproportionately affect the RV. Thus, we contend that the RV should be considered a potential Achilles' heel of the exercising heart.

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Functional Ability/ Impairment/ Quality of Life/ Physical Activity/ Exercise
Pulmonary Circulation
Pulmonary Hypertension
Pulmonary Vascular Remodeling
Right Heart Failure


André La Gerche, Timothy Roberts, Guido Claessen

Published in:

Pulmonary Circulation Vol 4: No 3 cover image

August 2014

Pulmonary Circulation Vol 4: No 3

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