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Does Michael Phelps have Marfan Syndrome?

Marfan syndrome Michael Phelps???

Sounds weird, I’m sure.

His diehard fans (there are millions of them, all over the world) will be shocked to hear that their heartthrob has been accused of achieving extraordinary success because he is afflicted by a relatively unknown disorder known as the Marfan syndrome.

With his 16 gold medals, Michael Phelps -the indefatigable swimming machine- is indeed a role model for all sportspersons & athletes of this generation. But success also puts you under continuous public scrutiny and you have to pay a price for being a celebrity.


Does Michael Phelps have Marfan syndrome?

Does Michael Phelps have Marfan Syndrome?

Such a hugely successful career causes detractors to come up with unlikeliest queries, questions and allegations that can undermine a person’s achievements. It gives rise to unsavoury situations, where the success achieved by the person is question is attributed not to his hard work, perseverance or dedication to his chosen discipline but to some supposed disorder.

Michael Phelps is no exception to this rule and as he lapped up one gold medal after another at the recently concluded London Olympics, many doubting Thomases began questioning his miraculous feat by saying that his achievements in the pool were largely due to his unduly long arms and legs, which are typical Marfan syndrome symptoms.


Marfan syndrome- What is it?

For those of you who do not know what causes Marfan syndrome, let us tell you that it is primarily a genetic disorder which affects the connective tissue and causes abnormalities on the following systems/ organs:

  • Skeletal system
  • Eyes
  • Cardiovascular system
  • Lungs
  • Nervous system
  • Skin

To know exactly HOW the organs and various systems can get affected, read our previous posts:

Marfan Syndrome Causes

Marfan Syndrome Symptoms

Marfan syndrome Diagnosis

Marfan syndrome Treatment


Marfan syndrome Michael Phelps: Arguments against the ‘Golden Boy’

The thumb rule for Marfan syndrome diagnosis is comparing the arm span with the height of the person in question. The suspect is asked to stretch his arms and form a T. if the arm span is more than his height, it is considered to point towards the presence of other Marfan syndrome symptoms as well.

Comparing arm span with height

With a height of 6’4″, his arm span is 6’7″. And that is clearly more than his height!

Further, he has unusually long hands and feet, which are typical of Marfan syndrome.

Not only that, what set the speculations rife is the fact that the joints of his shoulders, knees and ankles are hypermobile which is due to the weakness of the connective tissue.

Marfan Syndrome Michael Phelps: Denial

Though the 1.04 ratio of Michael Phelps’ height as compared to his arm span falls just short of the clinical cut off limit of 1.05 for Marfan syndrome, the energetic swimmer has strongly denied testing positive for the presence of Marfan syndrome.

In a book titled, “Michael Phelps: Beneath the surface”, he tells how he did indeed start doubting initially that he could test positive for the presence for this disorder and how he went in for a detailed Marfan syndrome diagnosis at the John Hopkins University, Baltimore.

Book by Michael Phelps

“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. 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. 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.

Fortunately everything was, and still is, okay. 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 route is clear and my heart is in good shape – as long as my Baltimore Ravens are winning.”

One of the doctors who conducted the tests on him and studied each and every movement of this Golden Boy in the minutest detail, Dr. Reed Pyeritz, confirmed that Phelps was not affected by the disorder by saying that though he did possess some attributes and symptoms that were typical of the syndrome, “anyone in the general population” was as likely to have these too.

“So I would never dissuade anybody, a physician in particular, from suspecting Marfan syndrome,” Pyeritz said. “But, if that’s all there was, the likelihood would be relatively low.”



It is indeed sad that most people will stop at nothing to deny this champion his due.

Someone even suggested that we talk about him at length in our previous post titled Famous people with Marfan syndrome.

Doctors who conducted a series of tests and experiments on him have ruled out the existence of any other Marfan syndrome symptoms in this swimmer and confirm that there is no correlation whatsoever between Michael Phelps & Marfan syndrome.




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About Ambika Choudhary Mahajan

Hi, I am Ambika. A hands-on, stay at home mom (by choice) to two cheeky devils. I am a freelance writer and eBook author turned blogger. Connect with me on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ to get regular updates.


  1. Hello Ambika mam
    Thanks for sharing this useful piece of info and I am of the same height and am a good swimmer
    Buy I am normal…..;-)

    • Ambika Choudhary Mahajan

      Hi Shitij,
      Thanks for reading! :)
      Not all tall people suffer from Marfan syndrome.
      There is a previous post that describes the symptoms of Marfan syndrome in detail. kindly check that out for knowing more about this disorder which is not so rare after all. It affects almost 1 in every 5000 people in the world.

  2. Well written article and thanks for sharing. I learned a lot about Marfa here.

  3. informative article about phelps…..i have read about him that he is double jointed…like hanna montenna …and bend his arms 15 degree more…than others causing him to be champion in swimming and especially in butterfly stroke….but today i knew that this all because of Marfa syndrome…….thanks for sharing

  4. Hello Ambika,

    Thanks for sharing this marfan syndrome article…I’ve got a friend of mine,who doesnt exactly fall withing the thumb rule u’ve mentioned above…but he meets all the other features…n he’s gt a strikingly longer legs…compared to his upper body…and he is only 20 yrs of age….pls clarify…thank you

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