Does early repolarization in the athlete have analogies with the Brugada syndrome?

M Bianco, S Bria, A Gianfelici, N Sanna, V Palmieri, P Zeppilli
European Heart Journal 2001, 22 (6): 504-10

AIMS: To re-examine the prevalence and presentation of early repolarization in athletes and to compare it with electrocardiographic abnormalities observed in patients with the Brugada syndrome.

METHODS: Electrocardiograms of 155 male athletes and 50 sedentary controls were studied. Early repolarization was considered present if at least two adjacent precordial leads showed elevation of the ST segment > or =1 mm. Amplitude and morphology of ST elevation, the leads where it was present and the lead in which it showed its maximum value were analysed together with QRS duration, the presence of right ventricular activation delay, QT and QTc duration. Data were compared with those obtained by electrocardiograms of 23 patients with the Brugada syndrome.

RESULTS: Early repolarization was found in 139 athletes (89%) and 18 controls (36%, P< or =0.025), being limited to right precordial leads in 42 (30%) athletes and 13 (72%) controls (P< or =0.001). Only 12 (8.6%) athletes and one control (5.5%) with early repolarization had an ST elevation 'convex toward the top' in right precordial leads, similar to that seen in the Brugada syndrome. In athletes the maximum ST elevation was greater (2.3+/-0.6 mm) than in the controls (1.2+/-0.8 mm; P< or =0.004) but significantly lower than in patients with the Brugada syndrome (4.4+/-0.7 mm; P< or =0.0001). Patients with the Brugada syndrome also had a greater QRS duration (0.11+/-0.02 s) than athletes (0.090+/-0.011 s; P< or =0.0001) with early repolarization.

CONCLUSIONS: Early repolarization is almost always the rule in athletes but it is also frequent in sedentary males. Tracings somewhat simulating the Brugada syndrome were observed in only 8% of athletes without a history of syncope or familial sudden death. Significant differences exist between athletes with early repolarization and patients with the Brugada syndrome as regards the amplitude of ST elevation and QRS duration.

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