Kay S, Moore BM, Moore L, Seco M, Barnes C, Marshman D, Grieve SM, Celermajer DS
Heart Lung Circ 2020 Feb;29(2):196-201
BACKGROUND: Prompted by a cluster of observations concerning ascending aortic pathology in elite rugby players, we assessed over 150 asymptomatic predominantly retired players with echocardiography, aiming to document the prevalence and severity of ascending aortic dilatation and/or anterior aortic effacement, both ‘risk factors’ for potentially catastrophic aortic complications.
METHODS: Rugby players (at least 5 years of high level competitive rugby) were classified as elite (national, state or first grade representatives) or non-elite. A total of 152 asymptomatic players with a mean age of 45 ± 13 years (range 21-65) underwent transthoracic echocardiography. Z-scores (number of standard deviations from a population mean) were calculated for aortic root and ascending aortic size.
RESULTS: Regarding the aortic root, a Z-score of >2 was seen in 24% (expected prevalence 2.3%, p < 0.001) and a Z-score >3 was seen in 4% (expected prevalence 0..1%, p < 0.001). Sixty-two (62) players (41%) had an aortic root greater than 40 mm diameter. Ascending aortic Z-scores were >2 in 53% of players and >3 in 22% (p < 0.001). Abnormal anterior aortic effacement at the sinotubular junction (STJ) was seen in 88 players (58%). Abnormal aortic dilatation and effacement were associated with a longer duration of competitive rugby participation and elite status, respectively.
CONCLUSIONS: Ascending aortic dilatation with abnormal anterior effacement is exceedingly common in asymptomatic retired elite rugby players. This warrants increased surveillance in retired players until the clinical significance of these findings can be further investigated.