Passionate football fans take heed: watching your team lose in the Super Bowl could be hazardous to your health.
Researchers have found that overall and circulatory death rates in Los Angeles rose significantly after a crushing defeat for the Rams in the 1980 Super Bowl. Four years later, deaths declined after the city's other team — the Raiders — triumphed in the U.S. football championship game.
"The emotional stress of loss and/or the intensity of a game played in a high profile rivalry such as the Super Bowl can trigger total and cardiovascular deaths," said Dr. Robert Kloner, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California, who presented the study at the American College of Cardiology scientific meeting in Orlando.
"In contrast, a win in a lower intensity game may actually have a favorable effect on mortality."
Kloner said fans who get excited during sporting events and have risk factors for heart disease should consult their doctor before a big game. Drugs such as beta-blockers, aspirin or anti-anxiety drugs could help them, as could relaxation exercises, such as deep breathing, he said.
"I'm not suggesting that people not watch the Super Bowl," Kloner said. "People should be aware of this and I suspect it applies to other sports as well."
Researchers in the study were concerned with identifying acute risk factors that can trigger cardiac death.
A recent German study found viewing a stressful World Cup soccer match led to increased cardiovascular events for fans of the losing team and the U.S. researchers wanted to see if similar results would occur with a major American sporting event.
The study investigated overall and cardiovascular deaths when the Rams lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1980 and when the Raiders beat the Washington Redskins in 1984.
They analyzed data on all-cause death rates from Los Angeles County for the day of the game and the following two weeks after the game, and compared deaths for similar periods in January and February for 1980 to 1983 and from 1984 to 1988.
Researchers found a 22 percent increase in circulatory deaths and a 17 percent increase in overall deaths in the Super Bowl-losing year compared to control years.
Kloner said the 1980 game was a particularly intense game with the lead changing seven times. The Rams also were in their first Super Bowl.
"These factors may have made the fans more emotionally involved," Kloner said.
In contrast, Los Angeles County saw a 6 percent decrease in deaths the year the Raiders won handily, the study found.
The Rams and Raiders have since left Los Angeles, which no longer has a team in the National Football League.