In recent months, we have reported on a number of studies investigating the long-term implications of concussion in the brains of football players. Now, a new study has moved to heart health, finding that college freshmen who play football linemen positions are at greater risk for certain heart problems than peers who play in different positions.
Lead study author Dr. Jeffrey Lin, a cardiac imaging fellow at Columbia University in New York, NY, recently presented the findings at the American Heart Association’s Scientific Sessions 2015 in Orlando, FL.
Safety in football is something that has received much focus of late, spurred by numerous studies revealing the effect the sport can have on the brain health of players.
In September, for example, Medical News Today reported on a study that identified a brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) – a condition believed to be caused by repetitive brain injury – in 95% of deceased NFL players.
In light of this and other studies, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recently issued new guidelines to improve safety for youths who play football.
“Other research has demonstrated football can have a negative impact on the brain, with increasing attention by the National Football League directed to concussions and how to prevent or treat them,” notes Dr. Lin. “Now, we are developing an understanding of football’s impact on the structure and function of the heart as well.”
To reach their findings, the team enrolled 87 college football players – 30 of whom were in linemen positions – and assessed their blood pressure and heart structure at the beginning of the season and after.
All players had normal blood pressure at the start of the season. By season end, however, the researchers found nine of the linemen developed high blood pressure, compared with only four of the 57 players in other positions.
What is more, the researchers found footballers who played in linemen positions were more likely to experience an increase in the thickness of the heart muscle wall and a relative reduction in subclinical left ventricular function, compared with players in non-linemen positions.
The researchers note that the biggest increases in blood pressure were found among linemen who also experienced changes in heart structure.
Explaining why footballers in linemen positions may be more susceptible to heart problems than other players, Dr. Lin says:
“There are physiologic differences between football linemen and non-linemen. Non-linemen tend to be quarterbacks and running backs. Linemen tend to be heavier, making them at higher risk for increased high blood pressure and thickness of heart muscle, and potentially decreased heart function over time.”
Earlier this year, MNT reported on a study that found starting football before the age of 12 may raise the risk for memory and thinking problems later in life.