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College Football Athletes at-risk of Hypertension, Study Reports

Update Date: Apr 03, 2014 02:01 PM EDT
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College football players are often the subjects of studies examining the effects of concussions due to the fact that the sport is very high-impact. In a new study, instead of focusing on brain health, researchers shifted the attention over to the athletes' heart health. The team discovered that even before these players reach the college level, they already have an increased risk of hypertension, also known as high blood pressure.

"It's remarkable that these vascular differences are apparent in the pre-season, when the players are essentially coming out of high school," said cardiology research fellow, Jonathan Kim, MD. "We aim to gain additional insight by following their progress during the season."

For this study, the researchers examined 50 college football players from Georgia Tech and Harvard. These schools had Division I programs. They recruited another 50 students from Emory College who were not athletes but matched the athletes in other factors, such as age and race. Even though the groups shared several similar factors, the team noted that football players were significantly taller and bigger than the control group. In terms of height, athletes averaged 187 centimeters whereas the control group averaged 178 cm. The athletes had an average body mass index (BMI) of 29.2 whereas the BMI of the control group was 23.7. BMI measures obesity by calculating weight in relation to height. The researchers compared the health of both groups during pre-season.

They found that college football players had lower blood pressure levels but stiffer arteries in comparison to the control group. The blood pressure readings were 111/63 for the athletes and 118/72 for the control group. In order to assess arterial stiffness, the team measured pulse wave velocity. A higher pulse wave velocity is a sign of stiffer arteries. They found that the football players had a score of 6.5 whereas the control group had a score of 5.7. The stiffness in the arteries could indicate future risk of hypertension, stroke and heart disease.

"It is known that in other populations, increased pulse wave velocity precedes the development of hypertension. We plan to test this relationship for football players," said Kim according to Medical Xpress.

The study was conducted as a part of a longer ongoing studying examining cardiovascular health in Georgia Tech football athletes. The study was presented at the American College of Cardiology meeting located in Washington D.C.

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