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Super Bowl Could Literally Break Your Heart

January 31, 2008

Whether you’re a Giants or Patriots fan, you might want to consider your heart when tuning in to this year’s Super Bowl.  

A German study that took place during the 2006 World Cup Soccer Championship revealed that an emotional response to a sporting event might provoke a coronary event, particularly in those already at risk.   

In fact, the researchers concluded that viewing a stressful a stressful soccer match more than doubled the risk of an acute cardiovascular event.

Additional factors, such as drinking, overindulging in junk food, smoking, overeating, and lack of sleep could also play a role.

“I know a little bit about the Super Bowl,” the study’s lead author Dr. Gerhard Steinbeck of Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich said in a telephone interview with Associated Press. “It’s reasonable to think that something quite similar might happen.”

Although previous research has shown that events like war and natural disasters can increase the risk of heart problems, findings for sporting events had been inconclusive.

However, the new study “confirms something people have been highly skeptical about … that soccer (would) produce that kind of emotional investment that might trigger a heart attack,” psychologist Douglas Carroll of the University of Birmingham in England told AP.

“People who are not interested in sports find it very difficult to comprehend this,” said Carroll, who in 2002 reported a link between World Cup soccer and heart attacks in England.

In Dr. Steinbeck’s study, he and his colleagues examined 4,279 Germans who suffered cardiac emergencies from June 9 to July 9, 2006, when Germany played seven games and hosted the FIFA World Cup.   After making appropriate adjustments for factors such as weather and air pollution that can affect heart rate and blood pressure, they found the incidence of heart troubles was 2.66 times as frequent on game days as on days when the German team did not play.   Men were at greater risk, suffering heart attacks or cardiac arrhythmia 3.26 times as frequently, while the rate for women was 1.82 times as great.

The effect was greatest in people with existing heart disease.

Dr. Lori Mosca, director of preventative cardiology at New York Presbyterian Hospital, said that this Super Bowl Sunday, people with heart disease or known risk factors like high blood pressure or diabetes should take extra care of themselves.  She recommends taking medications as prescribed, avoiding tobacco and fatty meals, getting plenty of sleep, not engaging in physical over-exertion, and limiting alcohol consumption.    

Additionally, people with a known heart condition should keep their nitroglycerin and aspirin handy, she said.  If symptoms appear, call emergency services immediately. “Don’t just chew that aspirin and think it’ll go away,” she said.

Surprisingly, existing research shows that some men do indeed delay seeking emergency treatment if they’re watching an important game. Dr. David Jerrard, associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of Maryland, conducted research in this area.  He told AP that on a typical Super Bowl Sunday “the number of patients waiting to be seen dries up dramatically.”

Dr. Jerrard warned those with symptoms to avoid delaying treatment.   

“Much of the chest pain or upper abdominal pain that people might be experiencing is mostly likely related to the food they’re eating, the alcohol they’re ingesting. But of course, you never know,” he added.

On the Net:

The Germany study is published today in the New England Journal of Medicine.  An abstract of the report can be viewed at http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/358/5/475.

Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich

New York Presbyterian Hospital

University of Maryland




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