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Rapid, irregular heartbeats while exercising may not spell doom

November 17, 2009 | 12:15 pm

The feeling can be scary: While exercising, the heart begins to beat quickly and irregularly for a short period of time. No wonder, then, that many people who experience it stop working out, afraid that they might have a heart attack.

Fdjceqgy Despite previous studies showing a link between that type of rapid heartbeat (called non-sustained ventricular tachycardia) and sudden death, a new report suggests that people without underlying heart disease may have little to fear.

Researchers examined data on 2,234 men and women ages 21 to 96 in the Baltimore Longitudinal Study of Aging who did at least one treadmill test that measured the heart's ability to pump. In that group, 3.6% developed non-sustained ventricular tachycardia with exercise that lasted, on average, about three to six heartbeats at about 175 beats per minute.

Death rates overall were higher in the group with tachychardia than the non-tachycardia group (29% versus 16%), and were higher among men and increased with age. However, after adjusting for gender, age, and people who early on developed heart disease risk factors, there was no significant increased risk between the groups of death overall, or death from heart disease, or having a heart attack.

"So long as a medical examination shows no underlying heart disease or other serious health condition, then people should continue to live a normal lifestyle, including a return to exercise after clearance from their physician," said the study's lead author, Dr. Joseph Marine, in a news release. "Our results suggest that brief, non-sustained ventricular arrhythmia during exercise testing should, generally, not cause undue alarm in patients or physicians," added Marine, an associate professor at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine.

The research was presented Monday at the American Heart Assn.'s annual Scientific Sessions conference in Orlando, Fla.

-- Jeannine Stein

Photo credit: Rick Meyer / Los Angeles Times

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