A heart-stopping football match could stop the heart

If you are getting stressed or angry when watching a tense football match, watch out – it could lead to heart attack.

The 2014 FIFA World Cup was held in Brazil, and saw Germany win the final in a nail-biter against Argentina after extra time.

Football, aka soccer, is the most popular sport in Germany, so tensions were no doubt peaking during the game. New research shows that the drama of the match may have even prompted an increase of people going to hospital after suffering heart attacks.

Bar graph showing number of hospital admissions due to heart attacks during he four time period. The fif world cup ha 184000 and it the tallest bar. The month after the world cup is the shortest bar
Number of hospital admissions due to heart attacks during he four time period.

Karsten Keller of Johannes Gutenberg-University Mainz, Germany, and colleagues found that hospital admissions for myocardial infarctions (heart attacks) spiked during the 2014 FIFA World Cup compared to 2013 and 2015.

The team analysed all hospital admissions in Germany due to heart attack from four time periods: mid-June to mid-July on 2013, 2014 and 2015 (when the month-long tournament was held), and mid-July to mid-August 2014 – the month immediately following the World Cup. There were no major sporting events in any of the periods besides the FIFA World Cup.

They found that during the World Cup period, Germany had 2.1% more admissions than 2013, 5.5% more admissions than the month following the final, and 3.7% more admissions than 2015. These results were published in Scientific Reports.

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The researchers didn’t note any difference in hospital deaths following a heart attack, – except on the day of the ultimate football match between Germany and Argentina, which had the highest number of hospital deaths of any day during the tournament. There was no reported differences in treatments during this time.

The authors suggest the increase in hospital admissions due to heart attack may have been due to elevated stress levels during the matches. Stress can affect the heart’s function, which can trigger cardiovascular events.

While the study identifies a correlation between football games and heart attack cases, it doesn’t explicitly find evidence of cause. In saying that, the statistics still suggest the World Cup had a significant effect on public health. Their findings can help inform hospital planning during times of increased national stress.

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