January 31, 2008 / 2:38 AM / 11 years ago

Soccer matches can break fans' hearts - literally

BOSTON (Reuters) - Watching a big soccer match can strain a fan’s heart — not just figuratively, but literally, German researchers reported on Wednesday.

Espanyol supporters react after Espanyol lost to Sevilla during the UEFA Cup Final soccer match in Barcelona, May 16, 2007. Watching a big soccer match can strain a fan's heart -- not just figuratively, but literally, German researchers reported on Wednesday. REUTERS/Gustau Nacarino

After studying the effects of matches during the 2006 World Cup, they concluded that, for German men, the risk of having a heart attack or some other serious heart problem was more than three times higher on days when their team played. It was 82 percent higher for German women.

Cardiac emergencies usually occurred within two hours of the start of a match, Dr. Ute Wilbert-Lampen of Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich and colleagues found.

“Viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event,” they wrote in their report, published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The researchers said other emotionally turbulent sporting events could likely produce the same effect.

To gauge the impact, the Wilbert-Lampen team looked at 4,279 medical records from the seven days the German team played, the 24 days when matches involved teams from other countries, and 242 other days in 2003, 2005 and 2006.

Only Germans found to have some heart problem were included in the tally.

“Six of the seven games in which the German team participated were associated with an increase in the number of cardiac emergencies over the number during the control period,” they wrote.

The largest number occurred during a June 30 quarterfinal in which Germany defeated Argentina in a dramatic penalty shoot-out. The next game, Germany’s semi-final loss to Italy, produced almost as many heart attacks.

In contrast, Germany’s match against Portugal for third place, produced no spike in heart-related problems. Germany defeated Portugal 3-1.

“Apparently, of prime importance for triggering a stress-induced event is not the outcome of a game — a win or a loss — but rather the intense strain and excitement experienced during the viewing of a dramatic match, such as one with a penalty shoot-out,” the researchers wrote.

The researchers suggested that doctors might want to consider increasing the doses of some heart drugs and give fans with heart disease some behavioral therapy for coping with stress if a potentially intense sporting event looms.

Editing by Patricia Zengerle

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