Football heartache proves deadly

Football fever can damage your health Keystone Archive

Doctors are bracing themselves for a surge in the number of sudden deaths in Switzerland during the European football championships.

This content was published on June 14, 2004 minutes

They say the chances of stressed-out fans suffering a heart attack could rise by as much as 60 per cent.

Doctors from Lausanne University Hospital, who have been carrying out research on stress as a risk factor for heart attacks, examined death rates during the last World Cup.

An analysis of paramedic records in the French- and Italian-speaking parts of Switzerland revealed a significant increase in the number of fatal cardiac arrests occurring at home. Women made up a third of the victims.

Dr Eugène Katz, a cardiologist involved in the study, told swissinfo there were 62 such deaths during the course of football tournament compared with 38 in the same four-week period in 2001.

“Even though it is impossible to prove that all the victims of sudden death were interested in football, the significant rise during the World Cup is clearly not a coincidence,” he said.

“And thanks to paramedic records, we can confirm that these deaths often occurred during a World Cup match.”

It is worth noting that Switzerland did not take part in the 2002 tournament, which took place in Japan and South Korea. Doctors fear that the country's presence at Euro 2004 in Portugal could precipitate more deaths.

Life and death

Bill Shankly, the former Liverpool manager, once said that football is more important than life and death. Katz agrees that this is really the case for many fans.

“People spend more time in front of their television, they take less exercise and they are stressed during the games,” he told swissinfo.

“They smoke and drink a lot, all of which heightens the chances of cardiovascular problems,” he told swissinfo.

The study also found that many fans forget to take medication prescribed by their doctors or ignore warning signs such as chest pains.

“Sudden death is sometimes the one and only time heart disease becomes apparent,” admitted Katz.

Health warning

Acknowledging that football supporters are unlikely to switch off their TV sets, the heart specialist has a few tips on how to survive Euro 2004.

He says fans should try to avoid excessive amounts of beer, chips and cigarettes.

Katz also suggests that anyone with a heart condition should not watch games alone and make sure they take their medication.

“Their life is more important than the victory of their favourite team,” he said.

The Lausanne University Hospital findings mirror those of a similar study carried out by British researchers during the 1998 World Cup in France.

They found that the number of heart attacks rose by 25 per cent both during and immediately after the match between England and Argentina.

swissinfo, Scott Capper

In brief

The Lausanne study showed there was a 60 per cent increase in sudden deaths during the 2002 World Cup, most of them heart-related.

The rise could be even higher since the study only took into account deaths registered by paramedics.

Doctors warn that as many as 85 people could die of a heart attack in Switzerland during Euro 2004.

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