The death of Chicago Bears player Gaines Adams has focused attention on heart problems in athletes. The 26-year-old Adams died Sunday morning. The coroner’s report indicates that he died from cardiac arrest due to an enlarged heart.
The Chicago Sun-Times reports that the hearts of healthy athletes tend to be bigger and thicker than normal. So it can be hard to determine if a heart problem is present.
SI.com notes that in athletes the heart chambers tend to enlarge. The heart walls are likely to thicken when disease is present. But there can be a “troubling gray area” when both the chambers and walls are mildly enlarged.
It is well known that obstructive sleep apnea is a risk factor for heart disease. A scientific statement published in 2008 urged doctors to pay attention to the link between the two conditions.
There have been no reports that Adams had sleep apnea. But could OSA have contributed to his heart problems?
Dr. Steven Park raised the question on his Sleep Apnea Blog. He noted that the build of Adams’ body put him at risk for OSA.
“There are many reasons for an enlarged heart but one major risk factor Adams had was his build,” Park wrote. “Just like many NFL players, he had large neck muscles that probably pressed on his upper airway.”
Adams’ death also caught the attention of Steve Gardner. He is the executive director of the Reggie White Sleep Disorders Research & Education Foundation.
“It is possible that sleep apnea played a role in his untimely death,” Gardner wrote on the Sleep Well and Live Blog. “We’ve seen it before… Sadly, we will see it again. We may have just seen it in the case of Gaines Adams.”
Retired NFL star Reggie White died in 2004 at the age of 43. Reports indicate that sleep apnea may have played a role in his death.
Studies have shown that sleep apnea is a problem in the NFL. Last year the Sleep Education Blog reported that OSA is common in retired NFL players.
And a 2003 study of 302 NFL players found that they are more likely to have sleep apnea than other men their age. The risk was highest for offensive and defensive linemen.
NFL officials have taken notice of the problem. In 2007 the NFL and the NFL Players Association began working together to target heart disease and sleep apnea in retired players.
The most common treatment for OSA is CPAP therapy. On SleepEducation.com you can learn how CPAP helps the heart.