Dedicated soccer fans could be at risk for heart attacks

A Mexico soccer fan cries after her team was defeated in a World Cup match on Sunday. If you start feelings this level of stress while watching a game, you should be careful of your heart. (AP Photo/Leo Correa)

WASHINGTON — Diehard soccer fans could be at increased risk during the World Cup.

When their national teams are in crucial matches, they can get really stressed out, and that may up their respective chances for heart attacks.

German researchers crunched data collected by several Munich hospitals during the 2006 World Cup and discovered that the risk of a cardiac event for men more than tripled on key game days, while for women, it almost doubled.

Their findings, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, were similar to those reported in the United States after several Super Bowls.

“Sports fans can be at increased risk of cardiovascular events and even death following very intense competitions in which they are getting maybe a little too involved emotionally,” says Dr. Warren Levy, chief medical officer of Virginia Heart, the largest cardiology practice in the D.C. region.

And when people become very emotionally involved, their bodies react.

“We secrete substances called catecholamines, which are adrenaline-like substances, into our bloodstream,” Levy explains.

These hormones have the ability to increase heart rate and blood pressure and to restrict blood flow to the heart.

The Germans found the biggest spike in heart attacks during the 2006 World Cup came following so-called “knockout matches,” the ones where a loss means the team goes home.

The final outcome didn’t seem to be the trigger; rather, it was the intense stress and excitement experienced over the course of a match by faithful fans.

Levy says patients who already have heart conditions may want to talk to their doctor about increasing their medication before attending or watching a very intense sporting event.

“We will sometimes do that in patients with heart disease before they do some physical exercise,” Levy notes.

He says physicians might also want to counsel such patients about the need to reduce stress and instruct them to watch out for various warning signs, such as an increased heartbeat and sweating.

If you feel yourself getting stressed out watching the Super Bowl or an elimination round match at the World Cup, Levy concludes, “it’s always good to take a time out.”

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