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Stroke Health Center

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Sporting Events May Up Heart Attack, Stroke Risk.


"As the authors note, the reported findings are consistent with a series of others showing that intense emotions can trigger cardiac events," says Peter G. Kaufmann, PhD, the leader of the Behavioral Medicine Research Group at the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute in Bethesda, Md. "Perhaps the most important message is that chest pain symptoms that occur during sporting events or other emotionally provocative circumstances must be taken seriously."

Individuals who are vulnerable because of significant heart artery clogging should already be on appropriate medications, Kaufmann tells WebMD. "Moderation in food and drink is always a good strategy, and this is especially the case for smoking," he says.

"Sports events should be enjoyed with enthusiasm -- and this can be done without fear of untoward effects, especially if we have the good sense not to ignore symptoms of a heart attack," he adds.

These symptoms include:

  • Uncomfortable pressure, fullness, squeezing, or pain in the center of the chest lasting more than a few minutes.
  • Pain spreading to the shoulders, neck, or arms.
  • Chest discomfort with lightheadedness, fainting, sweating, nausea, or shortness of breath.

When asked whether diehard sports fans should take an aspirin before the game, Kaufmann says that "individuals who have verified heart disease are already under the care of a physician. For others, in a large population, there may be offsetting influences. For example, aspirin slightly increases risk of hemorrhagic stroke, a very serious condition."

"I don't think any advice will be listened to because guys are going to go out to those games," Redford Williams, MD, a behavioral medicine researcher at Duke University Medical Center in Durham, N.C., tells WebMD. "We are talking about an acute situation where you are probably drinking, probably eating a bunch of fatty food, and ... are [probably] screaming, hollering, and getting all emotionally overwrought."

The alcohol could raise your blood pressure, fatty foods could make blood more likely to clot, and the stress of screaming when your team wins or loses raises stress levels, explains Williams, the author of Anger Kills.

"If you put all of this together," he says, "you may have a heart attack."

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