A recent study found that, in some people, heavy weightlifting can lead to aortic dissection, the rare but deadly cardiac event that killed actor John Ritter.
Aortic dissection refers to a splitting of the wall of the aorta, the largest blood vessel in the body. The splitting allows blood under pressure to enter between the layers of the wall of the aorta. This condition is fatal unless the patient is immediately diagnosed and has surgery.
In this study, cardiothoracic surgeons at Yale-New Haven Hospital examined 31 cases of aortic dissection linked to weightlifting.
They concluded that, in people with pre-existing mild to moderate aortic enlargement, heavy weightlifting can increase blood pressure and raise aortic wall stress to the point that it causes aortic dissection.
The findings were published in the July online issue of the journal Cardiology.
While this study does offer evidence of an association between aortic dissection and heavy weightlifting, "this is not a reason to avoid weightlifting and strength training, which can be healthy and beneficial," the study authors noted.
They recommended that people who do heavy strength training undergo a painless, minimally invasive cardiac echo exam in order to detect any potential problems.