WEDNESDAY, Jan. 30, 2008 (HealthDay News) -- If you plan on watching the Super Bowl on Sunday, you might want to stay cool and calm if the referee makes a bad call, especially if you have known risk factors for heart disease.
New research suggests that when serious sports fans are watching their team play in a big game, they face more than twice the risk of suffering a heart attack. While the study focused on the 2006 World Cup soccer matches in Germany, American football fans would be wise to take note of the findings.
"Viewing a stressful soccer match more than doubles the risk of an acute cardiovascular event," wrote the German researchers who conducted the study. "In view of this excess risk, particularly in men with known coronary heart disease, preventive measures are urgently needed."
Does this mean American football fans should give up watching Sunday's showdown between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants?
It depends on whom you ask.
Dr. Stephen Siegel, a cardiologist at New York University Medical Center, said fans just need to remember it's only a game. "It's a game and it's great to be involved and excited, it just needs to be toned down. Don't let your emotions get the better of you," he advised.
While some doctors might recommend people with known risk factors or a history of heart disease skip the stress of watching the game, Dr. Shukri David, chief of cardiology at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., said he thinks the stress of not witnessing an important game could be just as harmful for some people.
For the study, published in the Jan. 31 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, the German researchers compared the number of cardiac events that occurred during World Cup matches held between June 9, 2006, and July 9, 2006, to three control periods when no soccer matches were played. They also looked for effects on the days the German team was playing versus days the team was resting.
The researchers found that during six of the seven German games, there was an increase in the number of reported cardiovascular events. That effect was even more pronounced when the Germans were involved in a dramatic match where the winning goal was scored during the last minute.
On days when the German team was playing, the proportion of cardiac patients who were male jumped to an average of 71.5 percent, while men only accounted for 56.7 percent of cardiac care during the no-play period.
Overall, the incidence of cardiac emergencies in men increased 3.26 times the average of the control period when the German team was playing. For women, the increase was 1.82 times higher than the control period.
"It appears you have to be vested in some way in the outcome," explained Siegel. "I would definitely expect there to be an increase in heart attacks in New York and New England this weekend if it's a close game."
David added that sports fans can create "the perfect storm for heart attacks" by leading a sedentary lifestyle, eating junk food, smoking, drinking excessive alcohol, and getting stressed out by the game.
He said that if you've got known risk factors for heart disease and you know you get worked up when viewing sports, but you just can't tear yourself away from the games, you should talk with your doctor about whether a temporary treatment to keep your blood vessels relaxed would be helpful.
"There are people who have lots of heart irregularities when they have to do public speaking, and we treat them with medications called beta blockers. Maybe we should treat stressed-out sports fans with beta blockers also," he suggested.
Both David and Siegel added that it's not only the stress of sporting events that can trigger cardiac problems. Financial woes, losing a loved one and natural disasters can all cause stress that may harm your heart.
The American College of Cardiology offers advice on preventing heart disease.