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Triathlons Can Pose Deadly Heart Risks for the Unprepared: Study

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Triathletes take note: A new study finds that participants in these swim-bike-run athletic events face at least twice the risk of sudden death as marathoners do, the Associated Press reported. And, it's the swimming section of the race that's the riskiest.

About 1,000 triathlons are held each year, and several hundred thousand Americans try one, often without adequate preparation or check-up to see if they have any hidden physical problems, the study suggested. "It's something someone just signs up to do," often without proper training or a medical checkup to rule out heart problems, Dr. Kevin Harris, lead author and a cardiologist at the Minneapolis Heart Institute at Abbott Northwestern Hospital, told the AP. Harris presented his study over the weekend at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

While the risk for sudden death is low -- about 15 out of a million participants, according to Harris, -- it's not inconsequential because of the numbers of people who take part in triathlons. Stress and cold water for the swimming section -- often the first of the three events in the competitions -- can constrict blood vessels and make the heart work harder or aggravate pre-existing problems, Harris told the AP.

Doctors offered these tips for would-be triathletes, the AP said:

* Get a checkup to make sure you don't have any hidden heart problems.
* Start training long before the event and include open-water swims, not just laps in a pool. Acclimate to the water temperature before a race and wear a wetsuit if the water is too cold.
* Check that race officials have medical staff and defibrillators on site.

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