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Extreme Fitness Can Kill Athletes

Update Date: Oct 24, 2014 05:01 PM EDT

Becoming extremely fit can actually be unhealthy, according to a new study on endurance athletes.

British cardiologists from Musgrove Park Hospital found that athletes taking part in triathlons are significantly more likely to the potentially fatal condition of swimming-induced pulmonary edema. Lead researcher Dr. David MacIver said that the risk of developing the condition, which causes the lungs to collect excess amounts of water, increases the more people participate in endurance sports.

Recent statistics show growing numbers of swimming-induced pulmonary edema cases in community triathletes and army trainees. The study also revealed that the condition is more likely to develop in highly fit individuals undertaking strenuous or competitive swims, particularly in cold water.

"Swimming-induced pulmonary edema is a well-documented but relatively rare condition that may be misdiagnosed. If an accurate diagnosis and appropriate advice are not given individuals are at increased risk of future life threatening episodes and drowning," MacIver said in a news release.

Highly trained individuals are believed to be more susceptible to the swimming-induced pulmonary edema they are more likely to experience a mismatch in the ventricles' stroke volume as the heart beats, which can result in the excess accumulation of fluid in the lungs.

"If the athlete is in open water and unable or unwilling to rest while there is ongoing stroke volume difference, pulmonary edema can take place with potentially fatal consequences," said MacIver.

"An increased awareness of the risk of swimming-induced pulmonary edema among participants, organizers and medical personnel is important, especially as many may have swum before in the same conditions without experiencing symptoms," he concluded.

The findings were published in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

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