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Does Michael Phelps have Marfan Syndrome ?

Michael Phelps, whose achievements as an Olympic swimmer are legendary, is said to have the genetic disorder, Marfan Syndrome. The world champion from The United States and winner of two bronze and fourteen gold medals, has been the centre of attention for his exceptional display of skill and finesse in the aquatic events, especially since  the  Beijing Olympics in 2008. He has also been in the limelight  for very different reasons – his being evaluated with Marfan’s Syndrome. The disorder is caused by a mutation of a specific gene whose function is to control the production of fibrilin 1; a protein substance crucial for connective tissues.

There are several features that are indicative of the Marfan Syndrome. For example long thin fingers, long limbs, thin tall body, long arm span and so on, to mention a few physically obvious features. There are not so detectable symptoms too, like enlarged aorta, retinal dislocation, etc. In Michael’s case, his arm span is 6’7” where his height is 6’4”. His doctor has however maintained that he does not suffer from this rare genetic condition. Interestingly, this speculation about Michael Phelp’s condition has led to great awareness among people albeit inadvertently, regarding Marfan Syndrome. The disorder seems to strike 1 out of every 5000 people across the world and often poses to be a hindrance to normal life. Michael, however, has used it to his advantage – if at all he does have the Marfan Syndrome – in accomplishing his spectacular feat in swimming. His peculiarly long arm span, thin tall body and long fingers give him a definite edge over other swimmers. He is said to possess joints which are hypermobile in his shoulders, ankles and knees. At the same time, athletes who have some features of the syndrome, are likely to have them to their advantage. Flexibility and long limbs allow athletes to accomplish feats much more easily than most others who have the standard proportions of limb measurements.

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The speculation about Michael Phelps having the Marfan Syndrome, has been somewhat put to rest as the young and highly decorated swimmer has stated in his memoirs that his body measurements are well within clinical limits even though these appear to be at risk. Despite having an accelerated heart rate, Michael has a strong and healthy heart according to his doctor and medical reports. Had it not been so, the exceptionally dexterous swimmer’s life would have been at risk, as the Marfan Syndrome is quite a fatal condition, if not diagnosed and treated early. Regular checkups are essential in the management of the disorder.

Marfan Syndrome has no cure. With correct and timely diagnosis, it has been possible to increase the life span of people who have the condition and also improve their quality of life, over the recent years. As far as Michael Phelps is concerned, Marfan Syndrome or no, the Olympic champion and ‘Golden Boy’ of swimming has to his credit, not only the coveted Olympic medals, but also his winning team, Baltimore Ravens.

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