You know that feeling you get when a dramatic sporting event hits its climactic moment? Your heart starts racing, your palms sweat and it becomes impossible to sit still. For fans of the Green Bay Packers and Pittsburgh Steelers, Sunday’s game could have ill effects on the body, especially if the Super Bowl goes down to the wire. Could fans literally live and die with their team this Sunday?
According to a study released on Monday, a dramatic Super Bowl may, in fact, cause a spike in heart attacks for emotionally-invested fans.
In 1980, when the Pittsburgh Steelers staged a fourth-quarter comeback to beat the underdog L.A. Rams, heart-related deaths shot up 15% among men and 27% among women in the subsequent two weeks, compared with the same period in 1981 through 1983.
There was also a significant increase in deaths among people ages 65 and older, the study found.
It brings new meaning to the term die-hard, doesn’t it? The study compared heart attack rates following close, dramatic Super Bowls to those after comfortable wins, looking at death certificates in Super Bowl teams’ cities. It also found a possible link between Super Bowl losses and heart attacks, though that link seems shaky, at best.
There may be a correlation between dramatic Super Bowls and heart attack rates, but, as we know, correlation doesn’t necessarily imply causation. Did a team’s loss cause heart attacks or did the emotional ride of a back-and-forth game stress the body its limitations? The latter seems more plausible than the former, in this case.
For casual fans watching the game at home, the Super Bowl is a fun-filled event filled with good food and good company. For fans in Pittsburgh and Green Bay, Sunday is sure to be a roller coaster — a ride that this study warns could be too much for the heart. Check out the full study for more interesting tidbits, including a look at how the Super Bowl effects women and other factors that may be involved in the heart attack rate spike.
For more on Sunday’s big game, check out our 2011 Super Bowl StoryStream.