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Heart Disease Health Center

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Sporting Events May Hurt Fans' Hearts

Watching Stressful World Cup Soccer Matches May Raise Heart Attack Risk, Study Shows
WebMD Health News
Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

Jan. 30, 2008 -- Sports fans may be betting on more than their team while watching the big game. They could be putting their hearts on the line, too, a study of German soccer fans shows.

Researchers found that the soccer fans more than doubled their risk of having a heart attack, experiencing serious chest pains, or developing an irregular heartbeat known as an arrhythmia while watching their national team play during the 2006 FIFA World Cup, which was played in Germany that year. The Italian national team won the tournament. Germany finished third.

The study, which included more than 4,000 people admitted to the hospital for heart problems during the monthlong soccer tournament, showed that the rate of cardiac emergencies was 2.66 times greater on the days the German team played than when the team wasn't playing. Male fans had a higher risk of going to the hospital for heart problems than female fans. Those previously diagnosed with heart disease had the highest risk.

The purpose of the study, which appears in The New England Journal of Medicine, was to examine the relationship between emotional stress and heart attacks. Ute Wilbert-Lampen, MD, of University Hospital Grosshadern in Munich, and David Leistner, MD, of Munich's Ludwig Maximilians University, co-authored the study.

"We hypothesized that in a country such as Germany -- where soccer is particularly popular -- World Cup matches involving the national team might be a trigger strong enough to cause an increase in the incidence of cardiac emergencies," the researchers write.

Watching Sports: Bad for Your Health?

This isn't the first study to show that watching a sporting event may trigger heart attacks, strokes, or other problems, but fans may face other potential risks on game day as well.

Other studies have shown that driving-related deaths increase on Super Bowl Sunday.

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