It is a myth that those who have had a bypass surgery, or any other heart condition, cannot run a marathon. They can. All they should do is systematically and scientifically train themselves for the race and they are ready to go.
Things that a participant (with a heart condition) should keep in mind
- Take your medications, even on D-Day. Take them an hour before the run
- Having a good support system is important for any patient after a heart surgery. It’s particularly true for an athlete who is returning to a formal exercise or training program after surgery
- A thorough check-up by a cardiologist is a must. It is important that you do these tests: routine blood tests, an ECG, a 2D-echocardiogram and a stress test
- Undergo proper training. Learn about things that you need to do before you start practicing for the marathon. If this is your first time, begin with improving your fitness level. Start with brisk walking, followed by jogging and then running
- You are fit to run if your heart is pumping normally. A successful angioplasty or a bypass surgery will not come in your way
- Precaution is better than cure. If you suffer from chest pain or breathlessness, stop running immediately and contact your cardiologist
Who should avoid running marathon?
- Those with active cardiac disease
- Those with symptoms of chest pain, breathlessness, fatigue or exertion
- Those who have undergone a heart attack or open heart surgery barely three to six months prior the race event
- Those with obstructive valvular or muscular conditions of the heart
- Those who are known to have abnormal heart rhythm, which is worsened by exertion
Some healthy and safety tips for marathon runners
- Make sure you get adequate rest the night before the race. Eat carbohydrates-rich dinner the night before as that is your main fuel for exercise
- Have a light breakfast before leaving home. Arrive at the start point at least an hour before the start time to avoid last minute anxiety and chaos
- During the race, run at your own pace. Avoid getting carried away by those around you and trying to run at their pace
- Consume water or any other oral rehydration fluid at each water station along the way
- If you experience any chest pains, unusual shortness of breath, nausea or giddiness during the race, stop and rest for a few minutes. Seek medical help if the discomfort persists for more than a few minutes
- Write your emergency contact number on the back of your running bib
Warning signs of a problem
The five most important warning signs of potential heart problems are chest pain / discomfort, unusual shortness of breath, palpitations, blacking out (or nearly so), and unusual fatigue. Athletes should be vigilant about these general warning signs and report them to their doctor.
There may also be additional warning signs to watch for, that are very specific to the type of surgery an athlete has undergone. Some examples would include:
For those with a mechanical heart valve, stroke symptoms (temporary or permanent loss of sensation or muscle weakness) would be important.
For those with coronary artery disease, return of angina symptoms (chest pain/discomfort) would be important.
For those with aortic aneurysms, return of chest, back, or abdominal pain would be important.
For those with arrhythmias, return of an irregular heartbeat or palpitations would be important.
The author is a Senior Interventional Cardiologist and Head of Department of Preventive Cardiology and Rehabilitation at Asian Heart Institute
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