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Football Losses Raise Heart Attack Risk

Home Team Losses in the Super Bowl Increase Death Risk for Overzealous Fans, Study Finds

By Bill Hendrick
WebMD Health News

Reviewed By Laura J. Martin, MD

Jan. 31, 2011 -- You might want to keep your emotions in check during next week's Super Bowl. That's because emotional stress that some people experience during a Super Bowl loss could prove deadly.

A new study suggests that a loss in the Super Bowl is associated with increased heart-related death rates for men and women, and in older fans as well.

Some sports fans may get heavily emotionally involved when rooting for their favorite team, and if that team loses, stress levels can soar, researchers say.

Researchers led by Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, of the University of Southern California, examined data on death rates for Los Angeles County around the time of the Los Angeles Rams' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XIV in Pasadena in 1980. Researchers also looked at what happened four years later when the Los Angeles Raiders won Super Bowl XVIII in Tampa.

Rooting for Losing Team in Super Bowl Could Be Deadly

The 1980 loss was associated with an increase in total heart-related deaths in men and women in Los Angeles County on the day of the Super Bowl loss and for the two weeks following the loss. The increased risk of death was more pronounced in people aged 65 and older.

The Super Bowl loss was associated with a 15% increase in all circulatory deaths for men, but a 27% increase in women, the researchers say.

In older fans, the researchers report a 22% increase in circulatory deaths associated with the 1980 Super Bowl loss.

"Physicians and patients should be aware that stressful games might elicit an emotional response that could trigger a cardiac event," Kloner says in a news release.

While the Rams, now in St. Louis, lost in 1980, the Raiders' victory in 1984 did not show an increase in total death rates.

Intensity of Games May Be a Factor

The two Super Bowl games studied were markedly different in nature. The 1980 game was much more intense, the researchers say, with frequent lead changes, and fan loyalty may have been greater because the Rams had been a Los Angeles team since 1946.

In 1984, the Raiders had been playing in Los Angeles for only a few years.

Also, emotional involvement in fans in Los Angeles may have been different because the 1980 game was played in the suburb of Pasadena, while the Raiders' contest four years later was played in Tampa.

The researchers looked at death rates in Los Angeles County on the day of each Super Bowl and for the two weeks following each game. The data were compared to death rates in the same county for the same period in the years between and after those Super Bowls.

The study is published in the journal Clinical Cardiology.

Too Much Sports Excitement Can Be Dangerous

In the past, other studies have produced similar results. Researchers, for example, looked at cardiovascular events such as heart attacks and heart rhythm problems in Munich during the 2006 World Cup soccer marches, in which Germany played.

During the days of matches involving the German team, researchers found an increase in reported cardiovascular events. Researchers in that study concluded that "viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event." So what can sports fans who tend to get emotional do?

Here's what Kloner recommends: "Stress reduction programs or certain medications might be appropriate in individual cases."

SOURCES: News release, Clinical Cardiology.

Kloner, R. Clinical Cardiology, January 2011.

Wilbert-Lampen, U. New England Journal of Medicine, January 2008.

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