Why Heart Attacks Spike During Sporting Events

May 09, 2019 - 4:21 pm

(KMOX) Did you think you were going to have a heart attack watching the St. Louis Blues' double-overtime Game 7 win over the Dallas Stars on Tuesday night? There's evidence avid sports fans may be putting their heart at risk if they get too caught up in the game.

"Turns out there have been studies put together to look at this risk," said SLU Care cardiologist Dr. Michael Lim at SSM Health Saint Louis University Hospital. "The biggest study and the most pronounced one was in Europe, where people had a much higher rate of heart attacks during the World Cup as they followed their beloved national soccer team trying to win the World Cup trophy.  

"But this has also been seen in Super Bowls and other playoff games, in the NCAA Tournament, in college and NFL football playoffs. So it's really true that sports can raise those emotions and those emotional highs and lows can trigger heart attacks."

So how does it happen? 

"The adrenaline that surges through your body with either immense angst if the Blues get scored upon or tremendous joy as Pat Maroon puts the final goal into the net to win the series -- that does trigger an effect of cortisol or adrenaline that increases your heart rate and blood pressure and can be one of those things that causes the plaque in a coronary artery to rupture leading to a heart attack," Dr. Lim explained.

His advice to sports fans? 

"The best thing to do is to try to pay attention to your body. So if all of a sudden during a sporting event, or during the next round of the playoffs, you experience chest pressure or pain or you're sick to your stomach or can't breathe, those are things you need to pay attention to," Dr. Lim said. 

Researchers have not established a direct cause and effect between sports and heart attacks. 

"There's a long list of things that can cause or lead to a heart attack," Dr. Lim said, "but that's definitely known to be one of them."

By Fred Bodimer