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What the European Football Championship has to do with heart attacks

What the European Football Championship has to do with heart attacks
What the European Football Championship has to do with heart attacks

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The thriller games in the stadiums increase the risk of heart attacks among fans by more than double. Cardiologists from the Munich-Grosshadern University Hospital reported this in the “New England Journal of Medicine” in the run-up to EURO 2008. Other studies also show an increased risk. Victories by the home team are likely to have a positive effect.

The German heart specialists evaluated the operational protocols of 24 emergency medical stations in the greater Munich area during the 2006 Football World Cup (June 9 to July 9, 2006). According to the study, watching the fight for the ball and goals is significantly more dangerous for men. As the study author Ute Wilbert-Lampen and her co-authors wrote. The risk of heart attacks is 3.26 times higher for men, and 1.82 times higher for women. For comparison, the doctors used heart attack figures from periods in which the German national team was not playing for the coveted golden trophy, for example from May 1 to June 8, 2006 and from July 10 to July 31, 2006. Most of the emergencies occurred in the first two hours after the start of the game, the doctors reported.

Scientifically very well documented

There is already good scientific evidence that excitement in front of the TV screen because of such major football events – currently with many Austrians worried about the success of the national team under Ralf Ragnick – is linked to more cases of sudden cardiac death. Swiss cardiologists from the Centre Hospitalier Universitaire Vaudois in Lausanne had already collected data on this at the 2002 World Cup.

“Our study shows an increase in cases of sudden cardiac death outside of hospitals in the adult population in Switzerland during the FIFA World Cup in 2002 compared to the same period in 2001,” explained Eugene Katz at the European Congress of Cardiology in Vienna in 2003. In Switzerland, a 60 percent increase in cardiac deaths outside of hospitals was recorded. Previously, in England, which is also a football fanatic, a group of scientists had found a sudden increase in the number of acute heart attacks by 25 percent on June 30, 1998, when England’s team lost to Argentina.

Mix of risk factors

A mix of risk factors is probably responsible for heart attacks and the like at major international football events. Eugene Katz explained the phenomenon as follows: “We interpret this as an increase due to psychological stress, alcohol, tobacco and reduced medical care or reduced physical activity among football fans.

David Leistner, one of the authors of the Munich study from 2008, now director of the Heart and Vascular Center of the Medical Clinic 3 and the University Medicine Frankfurt/Main, was quoted in the German Medical Journal as saying: “I think it is difficult to determine what is causally attributable to the mass event ‘football tournament’ and the associated stress – both positive and negative. Presumably the sum of little sleep, noise, fine dust, an unhealthy lifestyle and limited compliance (irregular intake of blood pressure medication, etc.) plus the excitement of the tournament is a constellation that, taken together, has a negative impact on heart health.”

People who already have a cardiovascular disease should be especially cautious. “Blood pressure spikes, fast food, alcohol consumption, lack of sleep, forgotten tablets – this can be a challenge for those with pre-existing heart disease,” warned Leistner in the German medical journal, and advised ensuring that medication is taken consistently. Medical advice should be aimed at motivating those affected to measure their blood pressure before public viewing, for example, and reacting accordingly if the readings are high.

In any case, it is better to exercise yourself than to wear yourself out nervously and heart-wise in front of the screen or public viewing wall, said a team of cardiologists led by Miguel Maturana from the University of Tennessee (Memphis/USA) in a review article in the journal “Current Problems in Cardiology” in 2021. However, there is evidence that a victory for your own team reduces the risk of heart disease.

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