Management of atrial fibrillation in the athlete

Hariharan Raju*, Jonathan M. Kalman

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

    12 Citations (Scopus)


    Atrial fibrillation (AF) is a recognised arrhythmic risk of endurance sports participation, predominantly affecting middle-aged men who are lifelong athletes. Affected athletes were historically included in the category of lone AF, although specific pathophysiological processes apply to this condition, referred to as exercise-related AF. Younger non-endurance athletes may also present with AF, particularly when associated with co-existing cardiomyopathy or arrhythmia syndrome. Management of exercise-related AF is largely based on evidence from randomised trials in non-athletes. Cornerstones of treatment are, thus, thromboembolic risk reduction and risk factor modification. Rhythm control is generally preferred over rate control due to frequent presentation with symptomatic AF during the paroxysmal phase. Many therapies specific to athletes are based on expert consensus alongside observational data in athletic populations. These include: recommendations to detrain; treatment of symptomatic oesophageal reflux; and preferential use of anticholinergic antidysrhythmic agents to address the predominance of “vagal” AF in athletes. Ongoing research involving cardiac ion channel remodelling and systemic inflammation as mediators of AF genesis may provide future novel therapeutic targets for exercise-related AF. Ablative therapy shows promise in the athletic population with AF, although evidence remains limited. International consensus guidance for disqualification from competitive sports exists to guide medical management alongside athletes’ preferences to continue to participate. This review focusses on isolated exercise-related AF and reviews the evidence supporting postulated management recommendations of this unique patient population.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)1086-1092
    Number of pages7
    JournalHeart, Lung and Circulation
    Issue number9
    Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


    • Athlete
    • Atrial fibrillation
    • Endurance sport


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