“Can Be Fatal if There Is a Leakage”: Michael Phelps’ ‘Biological Advantage’ Gave His Family Scare of a Rare Disease

Published 08/04/2022, 9:30 AM EDT

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The world’s most decorated Olympic athlete, Michael Phelps, has established himself as the greatest swimmer of all time. The credit for his tremendous success goes to his dog-minded determination to win, backed by a rigorous training schedule.

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But Phelps also has a bit of a biological advantage with his unusually long arms that together surpass his height. Standing 6.4 feet tall, the length of Phelps’ wingspan reaches almost 6.7 feet. Unfortunately, this advantage can also be a symptom of a rare disease.

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What symptoms does Michael Phelps have?

Michael Phelps’ unusually long wingspan gives him an edge over his competitors in the pool. However, it is also an indicator of Marfan Syndrome, an inherited connective-tissue disorder. Typically, it presents with tall stature, extreme nearsightedness, mitral valve prolapse, anterior chest wall deformity, and scoliosis.

The swimmer has hypermobile joints in his knees, shoulders, and ankles, which are consistent with Marfan Syndrome. In his book, “Michael Phelps: Beneath the Surface”, Phelps revealed he got tested for the disease, scared about a possible diagnosis.

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“My heart rate was accelerating and Bob suggested I see the doctor. Because I was very flexible and had long hands and feet. I had some early symptoms of Marfan Syndrome, a disease that affects connective tissues and can be fatal if there is leakage to the vessels that lead to the heart,” he narrated.

It also causes an increased arm span to height ratio, the clinical cutoff being 1.05, while Michael Phelps’ ratio lies just shy of it at 1.04. He explains, “If you reach out your arms and form a T and your wingspan is longer than your height, you can be at risk. In my case, those measurements have always been very close.”

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Does Phelps have the disease?

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When Michael Phelps went through tests to check for the disease, they kept him in the dark about the situation. He said that his family wished to keep him in the dark until they got a definitive answer. Just to save him from unnecessary stress. 

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In his book, he wrote, “I didn’t know at the time why the doctor decided to look into this. My mom and Bob didn’t want me to freak out, so they told me it was simply a good idea for young athletes to have an EKG test in order to look at the heart.”

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Mercifully, all the tests came negative, and the swimming legend’s health remained well. He explained, “I have been tested once a year ever since at John’s Hopkins under the direction of Dr. Peter Roe and the tissues are strong, the aortic rout is clear and my heart is in good shape – as long as my Baltimore Ravens are winning.”

WATCH THIS STORY: From Subway to Under Armour Here Are Michael Phelps’ Famous Endorsement Deals

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Written by:

Mansi Jain

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Mansi Jain is a US Sports author for EssentiallySports. She has a Bachelor's degree in Multimedia and Mass Communication from the University of Delhi and has also previously interned for HT Media. She is always one mention of Yuzuru Hanyu away from delivering an hour-long speech about the athlete's legacy.
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