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Hearting the Home Team: Super Bowl Losses Cause Cardiac Arrests

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(Image credit: Dreamstime)

Some fans really love their football team. So much so that seeing that team make it all the way through the playoffs, win the conference championship, play in the Super Bowl, then lose, can be too much to handle. According to a new study published in the journal Clinical Cardiology, Super Bowl losses correlate with significantly higher rates of death due to cardiac arrest in both male and female fans.

Robert A. Kloner of the Heart Institute at the University of Southern California and his colleagues found that the emotional stress induced by a loss of such magnitude can spur fatal heart attacks. They determined this by comparing the rate of cardiac death after the 1980 Los Angeles Super Bowl loss with that after the 1984 Los Angeles Super bowl win, finding that the loss corresponded to 15 percent more cardiac deaths in men, 27 percent more in women, and 22 percent more in older people.

Though the study was limited in its scope - it used only two data sets - it did control for two important factors: First of all, the data sets it used corresponded to the same population only four years apart, controlling for the fact that health differs greatly between cities and populations.

The study also divorced the effects of emotional anguish over the game from the physical effects of eating far too many hot wings and chips and dip. It did this by comparing cardiac deaths after a Super Bowl loss to deaths after a Super Bowl victory , rather than to deaths in normal years.

The Pittsburg Steelers will battle the Green Bay Packers in Superbowl XLV on Feb. 6. "Physicians and patients should be aware that stressful games might elicit an emotional response that could trigger a cardiac event," Kloner said in a press release. "Stress reduction programs or certain medications might be appropriate in individual cases."

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Follow Natalie Wolchover on Twitter @nattyover

Natalie Wolchover was a staff writer for Live Science from 2010 to 2012 and is currently a senior physics writer and editor for Quanta Magazine. She holds a bachelor's degree in physics from Tufts University and has studied physics at the University of California, Berkeley. Along with the staff of Quanta, Wolchover won the 2022 Pulitzer Prize for explanatory writing for her work on the building of the James Webb Space Telescope. Her work has also appeared in the The Best American Science and Nature Writing and The Best Writing on Mathematics, Nature, The New Yorker and Popular Science. She was the 2016 winner of the  Evert Clark/Seth Payne Award, an annual prize for young science journalists, as well as the winner of the 2017 Science Communication Award for the American Institute of Physics.