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How do horses' blood vessels burst?

DURING a gallop the aerobic system of a racehorse is placed under immense strain, with more than 75 gallons of blood flowing through the lungs to deliver the 19 gallons of oxygen consumed each minute.

To support this need for oxygen the heart beats 220 times per minute with each beat pumping three pints of blood around the body. When the ultra-thin membrane that facilitates this process ruptures, the results can be unpleasant.

Equine scientists know this to be common, thanks to tracheal washes and endoscopic examinations. One expert, Kenneth Hinchcliff, says: "An exercise-induced pulmonary haemorrhage [EIPH], when diagnosed by a single endoscopic examination of the trachea soon after exercise, occurs in between 55 and 80 per cent of racehorses, while repeated scoping suggests it is ubiquitous."

What is referred to in racing as bursting is the most extreme form of EIPH, resulting in visible signs due to epistaxis (a clear nosebleed).

Mike Shepherd, a partner at Rossdales veterinary practice in Newmarket, says: "When looked at critically, EIPH occurs to some degree within all horses under exertion. It happens in humans as well, so it is not unique to horses. What is unique to horses is the size of their lungs and the huge amount of pressure their respiratory system is put under.

"It's not a disease, it is a natural process for horses, but where it becomes a problem, or inhibitive to performance, is when the bleed is greater than normal levels. Horses can come back after bursting a blood vessel and be as good as ever, but they are also more likely to suffer a recurrence of a problem.

"A burst blood vessel is like a break in the skin, it needs time to heal and return to 100 per cent. Sometimes the rupture will heal, other times it will leave a scar, weakening the lungs and making a repeat episode more likely.

"Each horse is unique but it can have a greater effect on consistency than peak performance and I'd certainly not suggest a horse who had burst was limited in reaching its full potential."

'It's like a break in the skin and needs time to heal'
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Title Annotation:Sports
Publication:The Racing Post (London, England)
Date:Nov 9, 2011
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