The reason for the difference is unclear, Tucker said. "We think that something more than bigness contributes to higher blood pressure in these athletes," he said. "We will do a league-wide study of blood pressure this year to try to figure out why there is a difference."
It's possible that their higher blood pressure is caused by the players' steady use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or by a high intake of sodium in the large amounts of food they eat to keep up their weight, Tucker said.
Both of those explanations could apply, said Dr. Neil Coplan, director of the section of clinical cardiology at Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City. "The use of nonsteroidal medications is much higher in the football population than the non-football population, and nonsteroidals are significantly associated with high blood pressure," Coplan said.
But the blood pressure finding was not firm because it was based on a single reading, "and to define hypertension you need to have a number of measurements at different times," he said.
And the entire study was made at a single point in time, so that a long follow-up would be needed to determine the true long-term cardiovascular risk for the players, Coplan said.
On the plus side of the risk factor equation, only one of the NFL players said they smoked, compared to 30.5 percent of men in the general population sample.
As for blood fats such as cholesterol, no difference was seen between the two groups.
The high levels of physical activity needed to keep a job in the NFL probably help keep the cardiovascular risk low, the report said. Physical activity is a standard recommendation for reducing risk.
A study of 201 retired NFL players last year found that they were not at increased risk of cardiovascular disease after their careers ended. The study found th
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