Not to be all Debbie Downer on this most exciting of sports days in Kansas City, but how’s your heart?
The ups and downs and the intensity of sports-watching can have health effects, many of them good. But for those with cardiac risk factors, beware.
Tracy Stevens, a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Hospital, worked in the cardiac intensive care unit during the Kansas City Royals playoff run and saw a “disproportionate” number of patients experiencing heart attacks.
“They reported that their sudden onset of symptoms occurred while watching the Royals,” she said. “It was kind of sobering to see that.”
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But not surprising, she said.
It wasn’t the baseball games, per se, that triggered the symptoms. Any intense emotional event can destabilize coronary artery plaque, which ruptures and sends the heart into disarray, she said.
The outcomes for patients treated at St. Luke’s during the playoffs were all good, with several patients receiving stents to open blocked arteries. One patient suffered sudden death but was resuscitated.
Elsewhere, a local family reported that a 41-year-old family member died after suffering a heart attack while watching the ninth inning of the Royals Wild Card Game.
All manner of intense emotions have been documented to trigger heart attack symptoms, Stevens said.
The message is to know your cholesterol numbers and your blood pressure, and to keep unhealthy levels in check, she said. And remember that drinking alcohol raises blood pressure.
“Make sure you’re on top of your risk factors,” Stevens said.
People with risk factors shouldn’t tax their bodies even more by unnecessarily boosting heart rate and blood pressure, said Ashley Simmons, cardiologist at the University of Kansas Hospital.
“If you’re starting to get stressed, keep an eye on the junk food you’re eating, the cigarettes you’re smoking and the alcohol you’re drinking,” Simmons said.
Help at the stadium
David Smith, health care technician at Kauffman Stadium’s first aid stations, hasn’t missed a home game this year or last, and he reports that the game crowds have been relatively healthy through the postseason.
Most requests have been for ibuprofen for headaches (constant crowd noise, probably) and for bandages (often for foot blisters). The cool weather during the playoffs has helped keep incidents down, he said.
When fans visited first-aid stations during the playoffs — more so than during regular season games — they wanted to get back to their seats as quickly as possible, Smith said.
“Even with a headache, generally everybody asking for help is in a good mood,” Smith said.
Fans seeking assistance don’t have to go to the first-aid stations, Smith said. Anyone not feeling well during a game can ask an usher for a visit from a “response team.”
Such visits typically happen four or five times during a game, often because of foul balls or bats flying into the stands. The frequency didn’t increase in the postseason, he said.
Although an emotional game might stress out an already unhealthy cardiovascular system, on balance it’s a good thing for the psyche — joyful, stimulating and inspiring, said Jeremy Burd, a psychiatrist at St. Luke’s.
“There’s the excitement, being a part of something bigger than yourself, a shared experience with the whole community,” Burd said. “Those things are all very positive.”
Uncertainty is hard to tolerate, but the ups and downs of a game heighten the shared experience, Burd said, from feeling a little down when the team is behind to having your spirits lifted during a comeback.
Healthy bonding can happen on a community level but also within families, particularly between parents and children. Many parents recall that same bond with their own parents, Burd said.
Although the intensity helps make it a worthwhile endeavor, there’s always a danger of losing perspective, he said.
“You can’t let your work or family relationships suffer,” he said. “If you’re not taking care of those things, and all you’re doing is watching sports, you’re setting up for a disaster.”
If a game goes late into the evening and affects sleep, or if the game goes poorly, be aware of your own grumpiness, he said.
“It’s the danger of caring,” he said. “Overall there’s much more good than bad for someone who enjoys rooting for a team. There’s joy in it. What’s neat is it’s really open to anyone who wants to be excited.”