Harvard Heart Letter

Ask the doctor: Can getting too excited while watching sports be harmful to my heart?

Q. I like sports, and now that I am in my 60s and have had some trouble with my heart, I mainly enjoy them on television. My family sees how excited I sometimes get watching a game and they worry that it is bad for my heart. I think they are going overboard. Can you tell my family to relax so I can enjoy the Super Bowl in peace?

A. Watching sports can stress the heart. But that doesn't mean you need to stop. Several studies suggest that watching exciting sports events can worsen heart problems, at least temporarily. A study from China presented at the most recent American Heart Association meeting showed that men who had suffered heart attacks were more likely to show signs of reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemia) and activated blood clotting when they were watching exciting Olympic events instead of other entertainment programs. Spikes in heart attack rates have been seen in soccer fans after World Cup matches or penalty shoot-outs.

Another issue is that people who are having heart problems often wait until the game is over before going to the hospital for evaluation. Physicians who work in emergency departments always expect a surge in visits right after the end of the Super Bowl and other huge sporting events. Some of those folks come in with heart attacks that have caused more damage than they should have because they delayed seeking help right away. It's conceivable that some people don't reach the hospital alive because they delayed calling 911 while awaiting the outcome of the game.

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