Roller Coasters Can Tax the Heart

People with cardiac problems should avoid the amusement park staples, study warns

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By Amanda Gardner
HealthDay Reporter

TUESDAY, Nov. 15, 2005 (HealthDay News) -- A wild roller coaster ride can trigger an irregular heartbeat in some riders, which could lead to death among those with cardiac conditions.

That's what German scientists reported Tuesday at the American Heart Association's annual meeting in Dallas.

Their presentation coincided with the release of an autopsy report from the Orange County, Fla., medical examiner's office on 4-year-old Daudi Bamuwamye, who died in June after riding "Mission Space," a rocket ship ride at Walt Disney World's Epcot Center.

The autopsy revealed the boy had an underlying heart condition that affected his heart's left ventricle, CNN reported. The boy's family was apparently not aware of the condition.

"This is exactly the type of case I am talking about," said study author Dr. Jurgen Koschyk, a cardiologist at University Hospital in Mannheim, Germany. "For people with known heart disease or prior history of heart attack, we strongly recommend that they not enter a roller coaster."

Koschyk undertook the study after being invited to talk about the subject on German TV, and finding there was no research.

"There was no data, really no data," he said. "It's a problem in Germany, and probably more of a problem in the U.S. because rides are harder, quicker, faster, there are more gravity forces."

For the study, Koschyk and his colleagues enlisted the help of 37 men and 18 women, average age 28.

Heart rates were recorded before, during and after a roller coaster ride at Expedition GeForce in Holiday Park Hassloch, Germany. The ride involved a 120-second journey, ascending to 62 meters above the starting point, followed by a free fall and changes in gravity of 6 G in four seconds, with a maximum speed of 75 miles per hour.

Mean at-rest heart rates were 91 beats per minute, or normal. After one minute on the ride, the average maximum heart rates jumped to an average 153 beats per minute. Women had higher average heart rates (165 beats per minute) than men (148.5 beats per minute).

Such an increase could cause arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats, in some individuals. That, in turn, could spur a more serious problem, Koschyk said.

In this study, nearly half of the participants had irregular heartbeats or significant sinus arrhythmia after the ride came to a stop.

One participant had an episode of atrial fibrillation, an irregularity in the heart's two upper chambers.

Emotional stress appeared to be a major contributing factor for the abnormalities.

For young, healthy people, the nerve-jangling ups and downs of a roller coaster is probably no problem. But people with high blood pressure, a previous heart attack, an implanted pacemaker or defibrillator, or other types of heart disease shouldn't take the risk, the study authors stated.

According to CNN, since "Mission Space" opened in 2003, seven people have been taken to a hospital for chest pains, fainting or nausea. People with "high blood pressure, heart, back or neck problems, motion sickness" as well as "expectant mothers" are warned off the ride, the network said.

The ride simulates a rocket blastoff and mission to Mars, CNN stated. The Disney Web site describes the experience as "out of this world."

More information

The American Heart Association has more on arrhythmias.

SOURCES: Jurgen Koschyk, M.D., cardiologist, University Hospital, Mannheim, Germany; CNN; Nov. 15, 2005, presentation, American Heart Association annual meeting, Dallas

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