Fans can't forget their own health

Sports medicine professionals are responsible for the safety of athletes. Sometimes that obligation extends to sports fans.

A study published in this week's New England Journal of Medicine reported an increase in cardiac emergencies during the 2006 World Cup Soccer Championship at more than twice the normal rate. The study took place in Munich when the German national team was competing in the semi-finals.

Another study performed at the University of Maryland in 2006 showed a 50% rise in emergency department visits after professional football games as opposed to during the game.

Dr. Robert Sidman, Chief of Emergency Services at Backus Hospital, confirmed in an online article at Backus Hospital, that these patterns of behavior apply locally. Fans tend to delay getting emergency care despite the urgent nature of cardiac and stroke interventions.

All of these reports set off an avalanche of cautionary alerts throughout the media in preparation for the Super Bowl. These recommendations include:

• Avoid tobacco
• Don’t overeat
• Limit alcohol
• Take prescribed medications
• Try to stay calm
• If you have cardiac symptoms, get to a hospital immediately

Sports fans around the world consider the days on which major sporting events are held as holidays. Unfortunately, this changes their behavior to “holiday mode” similar to Christmas, Thanksgiving, and Easter where none of the recommendations listed above apply.

The typical scenario for disaster at a party or sporting event occurs when participants don’t take prescribed medications, especially diuretics that cause increased urination. This is followed by eating every food item available, drinking immoderately and getting caught up in the intense excitement of a competitive game.

Ignoring the signs of an apparent heart attack or stroke may further worsen the situation.

Many people who are not involved in sports consider the excitement over a game as craziness. However, passion for a sport or a team is a healthy outlet for stress. The way to avoid a catastrophe lies in moderation. Fans need to pace themselves and avoid this “holiday mode” mentality. As in all sports, safety is key and remember: your team needs you.

If you wish to learn more about spectator safety, listen to the podcast at Norwich Bulletin or Backus Hospital.

Originally published February 5, 2008.

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