February 3, 2011

Women, the Super Bowl, and Heart Attacks




Dinasaur in Ligonier Valley Library, Ligonier PA

February 4, 2011, is National Wear Red Day, a day set aside to raise awareness for women’s heart health and the effect of heart disease on women.


Super Bowl fans, watch out: If you’re a Packers or Steelers fan and your team begins to lose, the resulting stress could trigger a heart attack. “It is known that stressors such as intense sporting events may increase cardiac event rates in fans…” researchers report.

A recent study by a Los Angeles researcher at the Heart Institute of Good Samaritan Hospital and a professor of medicine at the University of Southern California has found that not only men but women can be susceptible to a heart attack while or after watching the Super Bowl.

  • A 1980 study of cardiac events and Super Bowl suggests that cardiac deaths in both women and men increased for fans of the losing side.
  • A 1984 study suggested that cardiac deaths decrease for fans of the winning team.

     The studies, based on the 1980 Los Angeles Super Bowl loss and the 1984 Super Bowl win showed that the loss “triggered more deaths in older patients compared with younger patients…” and the win slightly reduced these deaths.


…34% OF NATIONAL League viewers on all networks are women…

Among women 18 to 49, NBC’s “Sunday Night Football” was the third-most-watched program in America, trailing only “Dancing With the Stars” and “Grey’s Anatomy”…In fact, according to Nielsen, the number of women watching “Sunday Night Football ” has increased 23 percent over the last two years.

     What could possibly account for this surge in popularity in what should be the league’s least-female-friendly days? To assume that most women would take one look at the league’s violence and sexual mayhem and slowly walk away betrays a misunderstanding of football’s place in our culture, and also of women.

     First, the climb in women watching “Sunday Night Football” is clearly correlated to the program’s being the No. 1 television show among men. A rising tide raises all viewerships.

     But there’s more…

     Perhaps it’s due, in a large part, due to the characters, stories, rivalries, and heartbreak…and the savagery. The must-see, must-discuss quality to the N.F.L. during the 2010 season seems to exist because we’re more aware of these issues involved in the league, not in spite of it. The interpersonal drama included viewing supersize freaks of nature battering one another (fans had long suspected that high-speed shots to the head probably weren’t healthful…but the detailed reports on brain damage and the attendant Congressional hearings about football’s effect on America’s youth made suspending disbelief impossible), the highly publicized indiscretions of the players, and the scandals (notably the Pittsburgh Steelers were forced to play their first four games without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, disciplined following an accusation of sexually assaulting a college student in a bar bathroom and the return of Michael Vick, following his dog-fighting scandal), which made football a part of the pop-cultural wallpaper. This popularity was enhanced by reality shows, including Hard Knocks, an N. F. L. production.

     Perhaps, also, the N. F. L. and NBC are savvy operators who know how to capitalize on pop-cultural wallpaper. The league has not only introduced a clothing line specific to women, and it has developed two major social initiatives — one about breast-cancer awareness and another that encourages healthful behavior in children. These actions increase the league’s palatability to women. Add to this ads appealing to women’s livbes, such as that for Febreze, the official air freshener of the N. F. L.

     All this lends a soap-opera quality to the N.F.L. making it broadly appealing to women.


…(there was) a 27% increase in circulatory deaths in women around the two-week period after the Los Angeles Super Bowl loss.

     The investigators conducting the study obtained Los Angeles death-certificate data from Jan. 15 to the end of February during the years 1980 to 1988. Using non-Super Bowl days as the control, they analyzed the mortality data, including deaths from all-cause, as well as deaths related to circulatory system diseases, ischemic heart disease, acute myocardial infarction, heart failure and congestive heart failure.

     The study demonstrated that after the 1980 Super Bowl loss there was a significant spike in all-cause mortality (P<.0001). all cardiac deaths (P=.001) and ischemic heart disease (P=.007) in Los Angeles residents.

    After the Super Bowl victory reductions were found in deaths due to all-causes (P=.003) and circulatory system diseases (P=.03) in women.


This…(information) focuses on the effect of emotional excitement, stress, despair and frustration on the risk of fatal cardiac events. The absolute changes in death following exciting/disappointing Super Bowls are relatively modest but statistically significant. Previously, emotional stress has been linked to acute stress cardiomyopathy, according to Roger Blumenthal, MD, Cardiology Today Section Editor



The lessons Die-hard Pittsburgh and Green Bay fans can apply when they don their team jerseys on Sunday, February 6, 2011:

  • that football is a game
  • that all fans need to remember that; large wagers/bets should not be levied
  • that you should keep your emotions under control
  • that if you are at high risk for heart disease, with high blood pressure and high cholesterol, remember: control those conditions and take your medicine routinely, especially if you’re watching a game.
  • that if you know your heart races as you watch an exciting game, Kloner recommends you speak to your health professional. “There are stress-reduction techniques – meditation, deep breathing and muscle-relaxation techniques. . . If you have underlying coronary disease, there are also some medicines that might be appropriate, such as anti-anxiety medication or beta blockers.”
  • that for good measure, get your cholesterol checked
  • avoid overeating
  • avoid overdrinking

February 4, 2011, was National Wear Red day, a day set aside to raise awareness for women’s heart health and the effect of heart disease on women. Why not add something red to your Super Bowl outfit to remind you to follow the self-care measures listed above? To learn more about Go Red for Women click on




Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Are You Watching Super Bowl XVI? Or Not?

Are You Wearing Red Today?



  1. As someone who’s hosted Super Bowl parties I think that it is as stressful, if not more, as turning out the perfect Thanksgiving dinner.

    Comment by 1littlesister — February 7, 2011 @ 8:17 pm | Reply

    • Good point. Watching the super-hype of the pre-game time, I would agree with you. Carolyn

      Comment by carolyncholland — February 7, 2011 @ 9:53 pm | Reply

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