Affairs of the heart

Boca Juniors vs. Pumas 

FIFA claim that if you have a heart attack in the middle of that lot, you’ll be perfectly safe…

One of the questions I’m most frequently asked by people getting in touch to get tips on attending football matches during a trip to Argentina is, ‘is it dangerous in the stadium?’ and my standard answer is that, provided you don’t go round declaring to all sundry at the top of your voice that you’re British (or American) and proud of it, you’re not likely to encounter too many problems. A recent study in Germany, however, suggests we shouldn’t only be worried about violence on the terraces – the real killer could well be a heart attack.

The University Clinic of Munich Grosshadern published a study on Tuesday in which they reported that, ‘the emotional stress generated by following a football match can accelerate the risk of a heart attack… the data that we have collected [much of it during the 2006 World Cup in Germany] point us to the conclusion that there exists a noticeably superior risk.’

As cardiac expert Norberto Debbag explained to Olé when asked for his take on the findings, though, ‘this just owes to [normal] emotional stress. In a sport that’s lived with as much passion as football, a penalty, the end of a championship race, all generate a hormonal surge in the form of adrenaline… if the person is normal, nothing’s going to happen. But if they’ve got hypertension, or if they’re already a cardiac patient, it could produce a heart attack or even sudden death. The point is that many people haven’t been diagnosed, and [thus] don’t know about the risk they’re running.’

Boca Juniors’ Bombonera is the only stadium in Argentina that’s officially rated as ‘cardiac secure’, meaning it has equipment present to re-start the heart of a spectator who suffers an attack at the game. Debbag, who works with the first team of Atlanta, claims the official listing isn’t quite accurate; ‘River’s stadium is also “cardiac secure”, although the cheapest and most effective method would be to educate the people in how to give the required first aid, and get the defibrilator in later. You’ve got five minutes to ‘reanimate’ a person. If there are two or three defibrilators in the stadia of River and Boca, then in a full stadium, it could still be a danger.’

An English study which Debbag also mentions, which is FIFA-approved (not that that means much, of course), however, found that it’s not only those in the stadium at risk; people have also died from the stress brought on by watching their team on television. So, the message is clear: going to a stadium in Argentina could be dangerous, if you’re a cardiac patient and / or have a history of high blood pressure, or just get easily stressed. And if that’s the case it’s not only South American football grounds you should stay away from, but also all football, in any form.

Of course, reading about it on websites is probably safe enough…

The report from the University Clinic of Munich Grossharden will be published in full on the 31st January in the New England Journal of Medicine. The exact words will differ from those I’ve quoted, because I’m translating from the Spanish in Olé‘s report, which presumably is translated itself from either German or English.

Photo from nica* on the HEGS Flickr pool


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