Aug. 14, 2007 -- Riding a roller coaster is a rush for the heart, sending heart rates soaring as the roller-coaster ride loops, twists, climbs, and plummets.
Doctors from Germany's University Hospital of Mannheim report that news in The Journal of the American Medical Association.
Juergen Kuschyk, MD, and colleagues aren't against roller-coaster rides. But they suggest that the spike in heart rates during roller-coaster rides might be something for roller-coaster riders with heart disease to keep in mind.
The doctors tracked the heart rates of 55 healthy men and women before, during, and after riding the Expedition GeForce roller coaster at the Holiday Park in Hassloch, Germany.
The roller-coaster riders wore electrodes that tracked their heart rate and heart rhythm, starting at least five minutes before the ride and ending at least five minutes after the ride.
Before the roller coaster took off, participants' heart rates averaged 89 beats per minute. That pace picked up in a major way when the two-minute ride began.
First, the roller coaster slowly climbed for 30 seconds, reaching a height of about 203 feet.
During that ascent, the riders' heart rates took off, reaching their biggest increase of the entire ride. Chalk that up to anticipation, note Kuschyk and colleagues.
The roller coaster's initial climb was followed by a series of free falls, upside-down passages, and several sharp curves.
The riders' average heart rates spiked to 155 beats per minute during the ride, calming down a bit to 109 beats per minute at the end of the ride.
Compared with men, women had faster heart rates throughout the roller-coaster ride. Women's average heart rate reached 165 beats per minute, compared with 148 beats per minute for men.
The researchers also checked the riders' blood pressure before and after the ride.
The riders' average systolic blood pressure (the first number in a blood pressure reading) rose by 19 points. Their average diastolic blood pressure (the second number in a blood pressure reading) rose by five points.
Harmless changes in heart rhythm were recorded up to five minutes after the ride in 24 riders (44% of the group), according to Kuschyk's team.
"Although the arrhythmias observed in our study of healthy individuals were benign, the magnitude of increase in heart rates raises the possibility of risk for individuals with underlying cardiac disease," the doctors write.