Penalty shoot-outs can trigger heart attcks

December 19, 2002

Heart attacks increased by 25% when England lost to Argentina in a penalty shoot-out in the 1998 World Cup, concludes a study in this week's Christmas issue of the BMJ.

These findings support the view that heart attacks can be triggered by emotional upset, such as watching your football team lose an important match, particularly those in which there is a penalty shoot out.

Researchers examined hospital admissions for heart attack, stroke, deliberate self harm, and road traffic injuries on the day of, and five days after, England's World Cup matches, compared with admissions at the same time in previous and following years and in the month before the tournament.

Risk of admission for heart attack increased by 25% on 30 June 1998 (the day England lost to Argentina in a penalty shoot-out) and the following two days. No excess admissions occurred for any of the other diagnoses or on the days of the other England matches. Admissions were slightly higher in men than women.

Given that matches between England and Argentina always produce intense rivalry, and the fact that it was a knock out game, football fans would have experienced a fair amount of tension before and during the match, say the authors. They suggest that the excess admissions are attributable to spectators' emotions during the very tense ending.

If the triggering hypothesis is true, preventive efforts should consider strategies for dealing with the effects of acute physical and psychological upheavals, say the authors. Aside from issues of sporting fairness, perhaps the lottery of the penalty shoot-out should be abandoned on public health grounds, they conclude.


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