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Sports seem OK for many with heart-zapping device

Thursday - 5/23/2013, 12:26am  ET

FILE - In this Dec. 7, 2012, file photo, Utah State basketball player Danny Berger becomes emotional as he speaks with reporters about his recovery at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. Berger collapsed during NCAA college basketball practice and went into cardiac arrest, resulting in a defibrillator being implanted in his chest. Berger ran a mile the other day then did some stairs afterward, just six weeks after he nearly died after collapsing on the basketball court. (AP Photo/Deseret News, Ravell Call, File)

AP Medical Writer

WASHINGTON (AP) -- New research is challenging medical guidelines that say people with a heart-zapping device in their chests should avoid intense sports like basketball and soccer in favor of golf or bowling.

Lots of patients ignore that take-it-easy advice and stay in the game, and Monday's findings suggest vigorous exercise may be safe for many of them after all.

A registry tracked 372 people who stuck with competitive sports after having a defibrillator surgically implanted to guard against dangerous irregular heartbeats -- and found that the lifesaving device worked when needed despite the physical exertion.

"This is good guidance for many of the sports. It should be reassuring that in fact many people can participate," said Dr. Gordon Tomaselli, a former American Heart Association president who wasn't involved with the new study -- and cautions that questions remain.

More than 100,000 defibrillators are implanted in U.S. patients every year, devices that can detect when an abnormal heartbeat is forming and automatically shock the heart to help it get back into rhythm. Most recipients are older people with heart failure, too sick to worry about sports.

But increasingly, teenagers and younger adults receive these implants, people who may be more active and fit but have some underlying heart abnormality that puts them at risk of an arrhythmia. Last year, Utah State forward Danny Berger collapsed on the basketball court, was revived and had a defibrillator implanted; he has said he hopes to play again. Harder still is how to advise people who get the implants as a precaution, before any symptoms of trouble.

The big questions: Do the implants fire properly under the physical duress of competitive sports? Do they emit painful shocks more often? Might they break with a hit to the chest?

To begin finding out, Yale University heart specialist Dr. Rachel Lampert opened a national registry that, over 2
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