The researchers found a 15 percent increase in all cardiac deaths among men, and a 27 percent increase among women, in Los Angeles after the Rams lost the 1980 Super Bowl to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Among older patients, there was a 22 percent increase in cardiac deaths — which include heart attack, heart failure and congestive heart failure — associated with the Super Bowl loss, the researchers said.
The emotional distress fans feel after a loss may be the culprit in higher death rates among men, women and older people in the two weeks after the championship game, said study author Dr. Robert Kloner, a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California.
In contrast, the Los Angeles Raiders 1984 Super Bowl win was associated with lower death rates from heart disease among women and older people after the game, according to the study.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Cardiology.
"The home team becomes almost like a family member, in many situations," Kloner told MyHealthNewsDaily, so the game brings emotional stress, increases heart rate, blood pressure and other risk factors. "There is a brain-heart connection."
The researchers obtained death certificate data from Los Angeles County from 1980 to 1988, and compared the mortality rates over the two weeks after each Super Bowl with other deaths days further from the event.
The L.A. Rams' loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Jan. 20, 1980, was a very intense game, Kloner said, and involved seven changes in the lead before the Rams lost in the fourth quarter. The heated match could have accounted for the significant jump in cardiac deaths afterward, he said.
Los Angeles' only winning Super Bowl was played on Jan. 22, 1984, between the L.A. Raiders and the Washington Redskins. In contrast, this game was not hotly contested, Kloner said, with the Raiders carrying the lead from the beginning.
"I think the study is very well done," said Dr. Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, who was not involved with the research. "It's very clever to do this kind of assessment. It underscores the role of stress and emotions in heart disease."
Kloner said there could be several reasons why women's deaths were significantly higher than men's after a loss, including the fact that American women have increasingly embraced professional sports.
"Perhaps the male's response affects their female partner," he said. "How do we know that men don't react very angrily, and take it out on their female partner?"
Kloner and Lopez-Jimenez agreed that die-hard Super Bowl fans should be aware of the physical peril possible from an extreme response to their team's performance. They can also talk to their doctors about taking certain medications at game time to mitigate any emotional distress, Kloner said.
"I think they should exercise caution, not take things so seriously . . . because, be reassured, someone is going to lose," Lopez-Jimenez said. "And to be ready that bad things might happen. The advice is very difficult to follow. It's all in the moment."
The study will be published in an upcoming issue of the journal Clinical Cardiology.
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