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 Wednesday, October 13
Chamberlain had an irregular heartbeat
Associated Press

 LOS ANGELES -- Wilt Chamberlain's medical problems included an irregular heartbeat that left him hospitalized for three days in 1992 and a recent 50-pound weight loss following dental surgery.

It's too early to determine what caused the former basketball star's death Tuesday, but heart problems compounded by stress can be fatal, said Jaime Moriguchi, co-director of the clinical heart failure program at UCLA.

Chamberlain recently underwent dental surgery to remove teeth knocked aside during his basketball career, said his sister, Barbara Lewis. He had dropped about 50 pounds in the last month, she said.

"He said it was the worst pain. I never heard him complain about pain ever," she said during a news conference. "He said he felt worse than he ever did Saturday. He looked worse than I have ever seen him."

"He did have some problems and we think at this point it may have been a heart attack that did him in," said Sy Goldberg, Chamberlain's lawyer.

If that is the case, it is possible he suffered from ventricular arrhythmia, an irregular beat in the heart's lower chamber, the body's main blood pump.

"It causes very chaotic electrical activity. The heart cannot pump effectively at all," Moriguchi said. "At that point, you pass out and you die unless something is quickly done about it."

Without medical attention, patients die within six minutes.

Chamberlain's health became an issue in the 1960s, when his former coach with the then-San Francisco Warriors was quoted as saying Chamberlain might have had a heart attack before the 1964 season. Chamberlain denied it.

In 1992, Chamberlain was hospitalized for three days after complaining of a "slightly" irregular heartbeat. Doctors said it was difficult to keep him in the hospital after the problem was stabilized.

His course of treatment was not made public.

Causes of arrhythmia include coronary heart disease in which the vessels supplying blood to the heart are narrowed and the muscle becomes damaged by the lack of nutrients.

Viruses and long-standing hypertension also can damage the heart and cause irregular beating, Moriguchi said.

About 350,000 sudden cardiac deaths occur in the United States every year. The condition can be treated with drugs, electrical shock and even burning of part of the heart tissue.

Like most players, Chamberlain had several injuries during his 14 NBA seasons, including a torn tendon in his right knee in 1969. Three years later, he led the Los Angeles Lakers to their first NBA championship despite a chipped bone in his right wrist.

The 7-foot-1 center, whose weight was listed by the NBA at 275 pounds during his playing years, retired in 1973.

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