The Relevance of Cardiovascular Disease to Triathletes – Zoot Sports

The Relevance of Cardiovascular Disease to Triathletes

Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and remains a significant public health problem that not even triathletes are immune from. The largest study on triathlon race deaths during US triathlons found that death or cardiac arrest during races is “not rare” (1.7 per 100,000 participants) and that a major cause was cardiac arrest, likely due to clinically silent cardiovascular disease. Even elite triathletes are not totally free from risk - professional triathlete Tim O’Donnell suffered a heart attack during Challenge Miami in March 2021.

The stereotypical triathlete is a driven individual, whose single-minded pursuit of athletic performance may put them at risk for ignoring potential warning signs of cardiovascular disease. Further complicating matters, cardiovascular disease may present with more atypical symptoms in some populations, such as women or individuals with diabetes. More recently, COVID infection has also affected many athletes, resulting in acute illness and uncertainty about returning to training, or in rare cases, life-threatening myocarditis (cardiac muscle inflammation).

Who should undergo cardiovascular screening and when? And what might a screening visit with your health care provider involve?

USA Triathlon's “Check Yourself” safety campaign emphasizes the importance of shared responsibility between race participants, race directors, and the national sanctioning body to make sure athletes are fit enough to race safely. Athletes should consult with their health care provider before starting a fitness program, with the evaluation including a focus on cardiovascular health. During training, athletes should consult with their health care provider about any warning symptoms, and the races that athletes choose should match their level of fitness and preparation.

At times, we as triathletes may think ourselves invincible. To ensure that we are in top physical shape and to keep racing safe, it is important to pay attention to one’s cardiovascular health. As in triathlon racing, control the variables that you can and prepare the best for those you can’t. The cardiovascular system is the engine that drives a triathlete’s performance – don’t take it for granted!


Written by Team Zoot Great Lakes member Audrey Wu MD.


Advanced Heart Failure and Transplant Cardiology, Cardiovascular Disease, Internal Medicine

Area of practice

Heart failure, cardiomyopathy, cardiac transplant

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