Sporting Events Can Increase Risk of Heart Attack
Does the rate of heart attack and other heart emergencies increase during sporting events?
That's the questions asked by researchers in a study (http://content.nejm.org/cgi/content/short/358/5/475) published recently in the New England Journal of Medicine. They determined that soccer fans experienced more than double the number of heart attacks while watching televised matches of the 2006 World Cup soccer championships in Munich, Germany, compared to other times of the year. (The World Cup is Europe's soccer equivalent of America's Super Bowl, the one sports event that builds fan momentum until the big game.)
Only half of the people going to the hospital had a known history of heart disease. That means that the other half had no idea that heart disease was lurking in them. It took the excitement of the game to unmask it.
It makes sense: The adrenaline-buzzed excitement that builds during the game, often compounded by smoking, drinking, all during a relatively sedentary several hours. Though intended for entertainment, these sport events are experienced as very serious business that can impose stress levels no different than being involved in a car accident, a robbery, or other intensely stressful situation. The World Cup Soccer tournament is held only every four years and is viewed by over 700 million people-a situation perfect for a build-up of fan tension.
With the same level of fan frenzy building over the upcoming Super Bowl, how can you or your loved one try not to add to emergency room statistics? Some friendly advice:
- When you feel emotions getting out of control, walk away. Yes, it's difficult when the field goal is about to turn the game in your team's favor. But a moment of quiet, away from the excitement, maybe outside, can restore a sense of reality and perspective. If you can't walk away, distract yourself: hold a child or grandchild, focus on an unrelated, non-football thought for a moment (like your Mexican vacation or what you are going to get your wife for Valentine's Day-it's around the corner!).
- If you feel breathless, or pressure or pain in the chest, don't wait until the end of the game. At least get away from the action for a few minutes. (Video recorders, TiVo, or online replays can always help you view the missed parts of the game.) If persistent, this may indeed be a reason to pay a visit to the ER.
- Don't smoke. Smoking is a potent constrictor of arteries, including those in your heart. If you have friends who smoke, you might ask them to take a break outside to have their cigarette. If you make it known that you have real health concerns for yourself and your friends, there's no reason anyone should be insulted by your request.
- Stay well-hydrated. Adequate hydration counteracts blood sludging, one of the essential requirements to have a heart attack. Alcohol causes dehydration; it cannot replace the fluids that you should be drinking.
- If you already have heart disease, the above advice applies, but even more so. Be sure you take your medications as prescribed, especially aspirin and beta-blockers, the blockers of adrenaline that most people with heart disease take.
One thought for long-term heart health: Because half the people having heart attacks in the study had no prior knowledge of having heart disease, it means that many people are walking around, going to their doctor, and even watching sports events without knowing they have undiagnosed but silent heart disease. The German experience is not unique: Millions of Americans, likewise, have undiagnosed heart disease and have no idea they have it. Speak to your doctor about having a heart scan-that's what these these tests are for: to identify hidden heart disease before heart attack strikes. Once you know you have it, then appropriate preventive action should be taken.
No game, no matter how important to sports fans, no matter how big the build-up, is worth losing your life for.
Ironically, Germany never made it to the finals. The 2006 World Cup Soccer finals were won by four-time World Cup winner, Italy, in a heated match with long-time rival, France. But, judging from the New England Journal study, even fans on the losing team pay a health price. Don't let it happen to you.