Super Bowl Could Be Real Heartbreaker for Some Fans

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January 31, 2014

Whether or not your team loses this week,  Super Bowl Sunday could still prove to be a real heartbreaker for some fans.

Recent studies suggest that the emotional stress fans feel after a loss may trigger fatal heart attacks, especially in people who already have heart disease. Stress generates the so-called fight-or-flight response, which causes sharp upticks in heart rate and blood pressure that can strain the heart.

"Fans often become emotionally invested in the game and get to the point of actually feeling like they are at the game," said Harry McCrea, MD, chief of Kenmore Mercy Hospital's Cardiology department. "As a result, they start to feel the effects of being overly stressed, which leads to elevated blood pressure."

Stress can be aggravated by common game-related past times, such as trash-talking and betting.  Consuming copious amounts of beer and fatty foods like chicken wings – practically a requirement at many Super Bowl parties – can increase the risk of heart disease and trigger abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation.

"Food is directly involved in many of the risk factors for coronary heart disease. Paying attention to what you eat is one of the most important preventative measures you can take. Saturated and trans fats in the diet tend to increase LDL cholesterol in the blood. Common sources of saturated fats include animal products and processed foods," said Dr. McCrea.

According to the Calorie Control Council, Americans eat about 30 million pounds of snacks during the Super Bowl, and averages out to about 1,200 calories and 50 grams of fat per person. The majority of those calories are likely from unhealthy food like pizza, chips and dip, chicken wings and snack food. That's nearly a full day's worth of calories, based on the USDA's Dietary Guidelines for Americans - and 43 percent more fat than is recommended for an entire day.

"The key is not to avoid the Super Bowl.  Rather, just be aware of over indulging too much," said Dr. McCrea. "Try not to associate your consumption with the emotions you're feeling with the game."