A small study has found that basketball players could be at a higher risk for blood clots that travel to their lungs. Such clots, called pulmonary embolisms, are highly dangerous, but the authors of the study note that their findings need to be reproduced in larger groups.
The study, conducted by researchers at the Research Center Network for Epidemiology and Public Health of Spain and the Public Health Agency of Barcelona, Spain, is a preliminary investigation done for the purpose of determining if a larger one is needed.
The researchers reviewed reports of cases of pulmonary embolism in professional and amateur basketball players in the medical literature and on Google. They then compared these reports to recorded rates of pulmonary embolism among two groups of same-age counterparts, 25- to 34-year-olds in Minnesota and Norway.
They found 15 reports of pulmonary embolism in basketball players, two-thirds of which occurred in men. They then focused on six cases that occurred in two major basketball leagues: the National Basketball Association (NBA) in the United States and the Asociacion de Clubes de Baloncesto (ACB) in Spain.
The rates of pulmonary embolisms among these basketball players translated to 1.27 per thousand for the NBA and 2.06 per thousand for the ACB. In the general young-adult populations in Minnesota and Norway, the rates were 0.1 and 0.018 per thousand, respectively.
Pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that has traveled to the lungs from somewhere else in the body, usually from the leg. Symptoms of pulmonary embolism include difficulty breathing, chest pain, irregular heartbeat, coughing, and coughing up blood. Risk factors for pulmonary embolisms (also called pulmonary emboli) are immobility, surgery, and cancer. These types of clots in the lungs are known to occur in people during a very long airplane trip, where movement is very limited.
Further research would discover whether this association exists, and if it does, whether it is due to the sport of basketball or to being above average in height.