USC study links football losses to heightened risk of fatal heart attacks

By Meghan Lewit
A study by Robert Kloner, professor of medicine at the Keck School of Medicine and heart researchers at Good Samaritan Hospital found that football fans in the U.S. are at increased risk for heart attack death, especially following a losing Super Bowl game.

The finding was presented March 28 at the American College of Cardiology annual meeting in Orlando, Fla.

“Stress may trigger cardiovascular events,” Kloner said. “Emotional stress involving a local sports team, especially in a highly publicized rivalry as in the Super Bowl, is no exception. Both losing a Super Bowl game and the intensity of the game may play a role.”

Researchers analyzed post-game deaths on the day of and for two weeks after the Los Angeles Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980 and when the Los Angeles Raiders defeated the Washington Redskins in 1984. They also looked at data from the Super Bowls between 2000 and 2004 when Los Angeles did not have a professional football team.

Los Angeles County total death rates and those caused by heart disease and heart attacks were significantly higher on days related to the losing 1980 game compared to non-Super Bowl related control days. Death rates were also higher for circulatory deaths, cardiovascular deaths and heart attacks.

On the other hand, there was a lower death rate in 1984 when the LA Raiders won the game and in 2000 to 2004 when Los Angeles did not have a professional football team.

The increase in deaths and cardiac deaths associated with the losing 1980 game could be related to emotional stress, Kloner noted. The decrease in deaths in 1984 may be related to the euphoria of victory, and the slight decrease in death surrounding the 2000-2004 games may be related to a decrease in physical activity.

“Patients, especially sports fans who have had a heart attack or know that they have risk factors for heart disease and become excited while watching sports may wish to discuss these issues with their health care providers,” Kloner says. “Relaxation techniques, slow deep breathing, or certain medicines may be appropriate for some excitable fans”.