Don't Let the Super Bowl Give You a Heart Attack

As the Super Bowl approaches, a cardiologist offers tips on how to protect your heart on game day.

The Super Bowl may be the biggest, most exciting day of the year for many sports (or Taylor Swift) fans, but most are unaware of the heart health risks it brings with it — and the ways to stay healthy.

Many of the traditions and habits associated with the Super Bowl can negatively impact heart health, according to Tamara Horwich, M.D., a cardiologist and professor at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, including excessive alcohol consumption. This can promote arrhythmias, such as atrial fibrillation, she says.

“This has been known as ‘holiday heart syndrome’ because of the excess of people presenting with palpitations, which turn out to be atrial fibrillation, during holidays and events associated with alcohol consumption — such as the Super Bowl,” Horwich tells Healthnews.

Eating an excessive amount of salty foods (think burgers, pizza, french fries, chicken wings, chips) all in one day can also cause problems such as elevated blood pressure or even decompensated heart failure in severe cases.

“Intense emotions, even those associated with competitive sports events, can trigger heart events,” she adds.

In fact, one New England Journal of Medicine study found that German men faced three times the risk of a cardiac event during World Cup soccer games in which Germany was playing when compared to control periods.

A more recent study on adverse cardiovascular events among sports spectators, published in Science Direct, shows increased cardiovascular mortality, particularly in fans of the defeated team.

The risk for such effects is higher for men than women, and those who have cardiovascular disease at baseline are at higher risk.

For example, someone with a history of congestive heart failure is more likely to develop decompensated congestive heart failure (swelling, shortness of breath) after eating excess salt, Horwich says, while a person with a history of heart attack is at the highest risk of having another one.

“It is important to be aware because preventive measures are possible in order to avoid these occurrences,” Horwich says. “Any type of stress management practice, whether yoga, meditation, deep breathing, or walking, should be implemented before the start of the game for those who know their nervous systems will be very much excited by the game.”

Horwich also stresses the importance of remembering to take any prescribed medicines before the start of the game and avoiding salty foods and excessive alcohol as much as possible — especially if you’re at a higher risk of cardiac events.

“Remember,” she cautions, “if your team is losing, there is always next year!”

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