July 8th, 2010
12:50 PM ET

World Cup can stress your heart

As soccer fans around the world brace themselves for the final battle between the Netherlands and Spain in the 2010 World Cup, they should be mindful that getting too excited or stressed out over a team can carry health risks.

A 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine found that watching a stressful soccer match during the 2006 World Cup more than doubled the risk of a cardiovascular event. Researchers looked at cases of patients in the area of Munich, Germany, whom emergency physicians had assessed during the World Cup.

Dr. Jose Luis López Sendón, chief of Cardiology Services at Hospital Universitario La Paz in Madrid, Spain, said in an e-mail that there has not been in an appreciable rise in cardiovascular problems at his hospital that are attributable to the World Cup - at least, not as of Wednesday afternoon.

But it's true that certain cardiovascular problems are accompanied by a surge of adrenaline, the hormone that gets released when you're pumped up about something. In extreme cases, a burst of  adrenaline can trigger arrhythmia, coronary spasms, and heart attacks, and there are factors that increase this risk, such as heart disease, hypertension, and use of tobacco and alcohol.

López Sendón says a couple years ago, a man about the age of 60 had a heart attack accompanied by cardiac arrest during the final soccer game in the national league in the Real Madrid stadium. He was obese, had hypertension, high cholesterol, and was smoking a cigar (which, in Spain, is "a symbol of satisfaction" at the soccer games as well as bull fights, he says). This man almost died, but recovered from the cardiac arrest at the football field and at the hospital his arteries were treated successfully.

Preventing cardiac events during a soccer match begins before the game and doesn't end afterward. Do regular exercise, eat a healthy diet (a Mediterranean one, in his view), and don't smoke. But during the game the only effective measures in practice are the teams of professionals who can respond quickly to people who are suffering a cardiac problem. It's important that there always be semi-automatic defibrillators distributed strategically, and teams of medics and paramedics with a high level of training.

The doctor's other advice for a big game: Don't eat a hamburger during the match, don't insult the referee if something happens that you don't like, don't scream, don't stand up. You can cheer your team with a little applause, or say "what a shame" if the outcome isn't in your favor, and recognize that it's difficult for the referee to make quick decisions.

"There is always one who wins and one who loses," he said. "Those are the two sides of life."

soundoff (146 Responses)
  1. DK

    Doc- How does watching a world cup game and the "stress" it causes relate to the pleasure it brings?

    July 8, 2010 at 13:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Cam

      The pleasure comes after when your team wins. I was so stressed out during USA vs. Algeria it triggered my tension headaches and I suffered from migraines all week! It was as bad as if it were finals week all over again. If you understand soccer and love it like I do then it can be the most stressful thing in the world!

      July 9, 2010 at 11:16 | Report abuse |
  2. WGBHBasicBlack

    If you’re interested in the World Cup, tune in to Basic Black tonight at 7:30pm Eastern time at http://www.basicblack.org for a live discussion on race and the geopolitics of the World Cup. You can also join a simultaneous live chat.

    July 8, 2010 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. relians

    right, the only stress in a soccer game is staying awake!

    July 8, 2010 at 19:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jay Saenz

      Exactly what i feel when i watch the PGA Tour on ESPN, its excellent for my slepping issues!!!

      July 8, 2010 at 19:42 | Report abuse |
  4. Anth

    World Cup can stress your heart – IF IT'S MADE OUT OF COCAINE 😀

    July 9, 2010 at 01:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. Cody

    Man...if the World Cup causes heart risks, I wonder what exciting sports do to you. Like numeous lead changes at the end of a basketball game...or how about USC or Texas fans watching Vince Young do the unthinkable...in person in front of over 100,000 people? Or Colts and Saints fans after Peyton Manning threw that crucial INT which N.O. returned for a TD to clinch their first ever Superbowl win...with over 106million people tuned in?

    July 9, 2010 at 09:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • SAWC2010

      106 million? That's the viewing audience of the pre-game show before the World Cup Final this Sunday, haha. Close to a Billion if not more, from all corners of the world will be viewing the World Cup Final. You'll see it break rating records all over the globe.
      American Football brings pleasure to a city and excitement to a country. Soccer brings pleasure to a country, and excitement to the world.

      July 9, 2010 at 10:07 | Report abuse |
  6. Charles

    Oh really? So, if I hold that stupid cup, my heart will explode? WTF, nice job, CNN!? It's watching an exciting sporting event that cuases cardio-vascular stresses- NOT THE STUPID CUP ITSELF!!

    July 9, 2010 at 09:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. daniela

    I only can say soccer fan all over the world Italy 45 million fans, Spain 45million fans, Germany 80 million fan, Brasil 40 million, Argentina 40 million at least, the world is not only 106 million American fan. THE WORLD IS MUCH BIGGER THAN Americam and we are all so different and unique.....but when I read comments like those before I only can say AMERICA=IGNORANCE even though afterall a game is just a game. Every country has its own traditions and that is called knowledge, acceptance and not arrogance....

    July 9, 2010 at 10:02 | Report abuse | Reply
    • DrFood

      Reading your comments, I am forced to say that WORLD = ARROGANT.

      How does it feel to be pigeonholed?

      July 9, 2010 at 10:29 | Report abuse |
  8. Phil

    It's not the game that's bad for you. It's the constant exposure to a vuvuzela....

    July 9, 2010 at 10:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. DrFood

    Here I was thinking that the article was going to discuss actual participation in the sport causing heart problems to infrequent exercisers. If WATCHING a game stresses your heart out, maybe you should actually put down the bag of chips, get up, and go for a walk on a more regular basis...

    July 9, 2010 at 10:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Soccer_fan

    Who cares about football and basket ball? Soccer unites at least most of the world.

    July 9, 2010 at 11:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. PiercedPsycho

    I am NOT going to say "What a shame" calmly when the ref makes yet ANOTHER bad call during a match. It just ain't happenin'.

    I will yell, point, jump up, pump my fist, and scream for my team. A little applause if for those golfing wussies.

    July 9, 2010 at 12:10 | Report abuse | Reply
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    Wow, who woulda guessed? Totally makes sense though. Thanks for sharing!

    July 9, 2010 at 17:46 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.