BACKGROUND: The effectiveness of cardiovascular screening in minimising the risk of athletic field deaths in master athletes is not known. OBJECTIVE: To evaluate the prevalence and clinical significance of ST segment depression during a stress test in asymptomatic apparently healthy elderly athletes. METHODS: A total of 113 male subjects aged over 60 were studied (79 trained and 34 sedentary); 88 of them (62 trained and 26 sedentary) were followed up for four years (mean 2.16 years for athletes, 1.26 years for sedentary subjects), with a resting 12 lead electrocardiogram (ECG), symptom limited exercise ECG on a cycle ergometer, echocardiography, and 24 hour ECG Holter monitoring. RESULTS: A significant ST segment depression at peak exercise was detected in one athlete at the first evaluation. A further case was seen during the follow up period in a previously "negative" athlete. Both were asymptomatic, and single photon emission tomography and/or stress echocardiography were negative for myocardial ischaemia. The athletes remained symptom-free during the period of the study. One athlete died during the follow up for coronary artery disease: he showed polymorphous ventricular tachycardia during both the exercise test and Holter monitoring, but no significant ST segment depression. CONCLUSIONS: The finding of false positive ST segment depression in elderly athletes, although still not fully understood, may be related to the physiological cardiac remodelling induced by regular training. Thus athletes with exercise induced ST segment depression, with no associated symptoms and/or complex ventricular arrhythmias, and no adverse findings at second level cardiological testing, should be considered free from coronary disease and safe to continue athletic training.
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