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September 20th, 2010
01:29 PM ET

Can athletic drama cause a heart attack?

Could excitement – even a good kind of excitement – give you a heart attack?  The answer, some cardiologists say, is yes.

Saturday night, Michigan State football coach Mark Dantonio had a heart attack after he led his team to a trick-play overtime victory against Notre Dame.  He began experiencing chest discomfort shortly after the 34-31 victory, and went to Sparrow Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, early Sunday morning, where doctors opened up a  blocked blood vessel to his heart. His doctors say they expect him to make a full recovery.

Reporters asked Dantonio’s physician, Dr. Chris D’Haem, whether such a close game could have triggered the heart attack.

“Certainly stress doesn’t cause coronary heart disease, but as we all know, very emotionally or physically stressful events can be the trigger,” he answered.

Here’s what happens when you’re under stress, whether it’s good or bad. Your body releases hormones called catecholamines, including dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine.

This Just In: Coach suffers heart attack after trick play in OT

The release of these hormones produce what’s called the “fight or flight” response. It’s a primitive and natural response to stress that allows us to, say, run away from an oncoming bear or fight an on approaching enemy.

“The surge causes stress on your heart,” explains Dr. Sara Mobasseri, a preventive cardiologist at the Piedmont Heart Institute. “It makes your heart work harder and blood flow faster.”

If someone has underlying cardiac disease, this stress may be too much for the heart, and cause a heart attack.  While usually the stress is bad, it doesn’t have to be, Mobasseri says. “The catecholamine release can happen in happy circumstances,” she says.

A study done of soccer fans during the 2006 World Cup competition in Germany found that viewing a stressful match more than doubled the risk of an acute cardiovascular event. “In view of this excess risk, particularly in men with known coronary heart disease, preventive measures are urgently needed,” the study authors wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine.

Cardiologists warn that signs of a heart attack might not be what you expect. Sometimes it’s the “Hollywood heart attack” where the victim clutches their chest and collapses, but other times the signs are more subtle, such as less dramatic chest discomfort, or nausea.

“It wasn’t me clutching my throat or my chest and falling to the ground,” said Duane Marcus, who suffered a heart attack. “It was a relatively minor pain that I kept expecting to go away, but it never did.”  Here are more first-person accounts of what a heart attack feels like.


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soundoff (35 Responses)
  1. char

    I'm just glad he is okay. God bless him and his family.

    September 20, 2010 at 13:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Avi

    I remember when Canada was in O.T for the gold medal in hockey my chest was pounding, it was just crazy

    September 20, 2010 at 14:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. daveyboy

    high blood pressure can

    September 20, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. peanuts

    probably that BBQ from that pregaming that clog up even that BP well

    September 20, 2010 at 14:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. jeanster

    Sad that this happened, especially in a situation so unnecessary as college athletics.

    September 20, 2010 at 14:38 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Charles

      As opposed to something necessary like, jogging? A scarry movie? Sex?

      September 20, 2010 at 16:31 | Report abuse |
    • Pete

      Yeah, but beating Notre Dame is worth it.

      September 20, 2010 at 19:59 | Report abuse |
    • ranger

      @jeanster
      You're a moron. It's the guys job..It's how he puts food on the table. Really pointless right? I guess having a heart attack while driving or going for a walk is much more neccessary than having a heart attack whole making a living.

      September 20, 2010 at 20:09 | Report abuse |
    • ranger

      *while not whole lol

      September 20, 2010 at 20:10 | Report abuse |
  6. Anna

    Anything can cause a heart attack. So long it's beating fast enough to a point where you feel it's about to explode. I haven't had a heart attack but I know plenty of people who did–runs in the males in my family. If you already have an abnormally high heart rate, a mere jog around the block and put an end to you (in the case of myself).

    Done with stating the obvious. Good thing the guy is ok.

    September 20, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Rush

    Considering the original article CNN had posted said that he did have a heart attack from the game, Im going to say that it is possible.
    High blood pressure is not good – get it checked out asap and make changes appropriately

    September 20, 2010 at 14:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Jorge

    Recipe to avoid sports-stress heart ailment-Drop the beer, the chips and the remote, get your fat, dumpy behind off the armchair and instead of second-guessing the athletes on TV...GO PRACTICE SOME SPORTS YOURSELF.

    September 20, 2010 at 15:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Brian

    that's what happens when you beat Gods team

    September 20, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • @Brian (15:45)

      hahaha...thanks for the good laugh!

      September 20, 2010 at 15:58 | Report abuse |
  10. Bruddah

    According to the rules, I should have died from a heart attack long ago. But, I am still here at age 66, high blood pressure
    and all the other stuff. I simply plan to live life on my terms and then go with the big bang when it comes.

    September 20, 2010 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. '_'

    No the "American" diet of high sodium, high fat mixed with smoking and alcoholism does.

    September 20, 2010 at 16:13 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. bubba

    forget the excitement of the game; clogged arteries = heart atack

    September 20, 2010 at 16:17 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. pat in michigan

    yes it can .my brother was watching the michigan/noter dame game the week before and he had a heart attack the next morning.

    September 20, 2010 at 16:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Gary

    I record most of my teams games and watch them after knowing the outcome. Reduces the stress and allows me to ingore the commercials. The must watch live games are going to kill me one day. I can physically feel the stress during the games when I do not know the outcome.

    September 20, 2010 at 16:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. MSU fan

    This guy is a serious POS after how he handled the hockey/football drama that went down last year. He got what he deserved...

    September 20, 2010 at 16:57 | Report abuse | Reply
    • a TRUE MSU fan

      you are a real d-bag. saying somebody deserved to have a heart attack just because you didnt like the way a sport event was handled is absolutly horrible. I am happy coach D will be okay.

      September 20, 2010 at 17:35 | Report abuse |
    • char

      Growup, you must be a liberal

      September 20, 2010 at 17:49 | Report abuse |
  16. DACOOLE

    Of course it does! I was active in training and showing horses, and from time to time these middle-aged out-of-shape dudes would get on their zillion dollar horses and keel over in the arena or right afterward. It has happened in both sports I showed and competed in. They even have futurities named after them. Some big names, too.

    September 20, 2010 at 17:00 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. Texas Pete

    He's just lucky that he wasn't smited.

    September 20, 2010 at 17:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. Paul in ABQ

    Being a U of Michigan grad, I'm thinking Dantonio is trying to emulate our late, beloved Bo Schembechler. Not really; no MSU coach is going to be as good as Bo.

    Glad he's seems headed for a complete recovery. Go Sparty!

    September 20, 2010 at 17:32 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Scott

    See, there is no such thing as global warming.

    September 20, 2010 at 18:12 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. loiseisenberg

    Making the decision to call a trick play to win the football game and executing it for the win can cause two heart attachs, and two nerves break downs!!!

    September 20, 2010 at 18:33 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. Mike

    Are we serious with this? Come on CNN, enough with this reactionary bull.

    September 20, 2010 at 19:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. Boomer

    I can definitely relate to this article. I hope he has a full recovery. My stepdad had a heart attack in 2000 when the Sooners won the National Championship. He passed away. I think the thing we need to focus on, is get your annual exams and physicals. Know what's going on in your body rather than just going on with your day to day routine. My stepdad was a fairly healthy man. He hadn't been to the doctor in years and he just assumed he was ok.
    I think as a country, we need to make our health a priority. Who's with me?!

    September 20, 2010 at 21:22 | Report abuse | Reply
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    http://bit.ly/Athletes-do-so-can-U

    September 20, 2010 at 21:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. Rickster

    That is why alcohol and sports go good together, alcohol has a calming effect.

    September 21, 2010 at 01:05 | 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.