This time of year – for the past six years, at least – Astros fans gather at Minute Maid Park or around TVs across Houston to watch the Major League Baseball playoffs. Diehard fans are on the edge of their seats, hanging on every pitch, cheering for every home run and cursing when the opposing team pushes a run across the plate.
Believe it or not, all of this stress can have an impact on your cardiovascular system.
A 2017 study in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology examined the heart rates of hockey fans during a game. On average, the researchers found a 75 percent increase in the heart rates of people watching the game at home and a 110 percent increase if they were at the game in person, equating to a moderate or vigorous exercise session.
“The stress from watching a game can cause our heart rate to increase and even mimic the symptoms of a heart attack,” said Dr. Sukhdeep Basra, an Interventional and Heart Failure cardiologist with UTHealth Houston Heart and Vascular and Memorial Hermann. “This could probably happen more in someone with underlying heart conditions such as congestive heart failure, coronary artery disease or atrial fibrillation.”
Dr. Basra says stressful sporting events can also cause our blood pressure to rise. A young person who is in good health can handle it, but for someone with a heart condition, it could increase the risk for a heart attack or stroke.
In addition, some fans might also experience broken heart syndrome, or stress-induced cardiomyopathy – a condition brought on by stress and an extreme emotional reaction. This can cause chest pain or shortness of breath and can make someone think they are having a heart attack.
“The good thing about this condition is that it is usually reversible and improves with time and medications in most patients,” Dr. Basra said. “However, if you feel any chest pain or discomfort, don’t brush it off. Call 911 immediately and let the doctors conduct the appropriate tests to find out what is wrong.”
Dr. Basra is not discouraging anyone from watching the Astros compete in the playoffs. In fact, he encourages everyone to have a great time.
“However, everyone, especially those with underlying heart conditions, just needs to be cautious and aware,” Dr. Basra said. “Even when you are really enjoying watching the game, the stress of the situation might cause your heart rate and blood pressure to spike and stress your heart. Enjoy yourself, but just be aware of the risks and seek help right away if you begin to experience any symptoms.”