World Cup Drama Too Much for Fans as Cardiac Cases Seen Rising

Jul 02, 2014 2:32 pm ET

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July 2 (Bloomberg) -- The World Cup always tugs at fans’ heartstrings. Sometimes it can pull too hard.

The latest World Cup fan suffering cardiac arrest occurred yesterday in Sao Paulo’s stadium as Brazil’s rival, Argentina, faced Switzerland. A Brazilian man attending a June 28 game in which the national team beat Chile in penalty kicks had to leave the stadium and then suffered a heart attack, according to Globo news service’s G1 website.

Cardiologist Nabil Ghorayeb is monitoring cardiac events at nine hospitals in six Brazilian cities the day before Brazil plays, the day of, and the day after. He is compiling data from an anticipated 6,000 patients, and expects the number of incidents to be “well above” those in the 2010 tournament.

“In the last World Cup, Brazil’s team didn’t excite the population in a rather evident way,” Ghorayeb said by phone from Sao Paulo. “If Brazil had a more-or-less team, emotions aren’t going to be so heavy. A very good team that loses causes much more cardiovascular damage due to the emotion of disappointment.”

Brazil, the pre-tournament favorite for the World Cup, was inches away from being dumped out in the round of 16. With seconds remaining Chile’s Mauricio Pinilla drew gasps from thousands of anxious fans in Belo Horizonte’s Mineirao stadium and millions watching at home, when he thundered a shot against the crossbar with goalkeeper Julio Cesar beaten. The strike would’ve given Chile a 2-1 lead.

Dramatic Finish

Then the nation held its breath as the match went into a penalty shootout. Cesar made two saves and after Chile’s Gonzalo Jara hit the post the stadium erupted in cheers of joy and relief. Players including Neymar and David Luiz, who were in tears, dropped to their knees in prayer.

“I just hope in the next matches things won’t be decided on penalties,” Cesar, who was in tears before the penalty shootout even started, told reporters after the game. “Otherwise our families are going to have heart attacks.”

While people link strong emotional reactions colloquially to heart attacks, doctors say the excitement and stress fans feel during a major sporting event may trigger sudden cardiac arrest, an electrical malfunction of the heart that can come without warning or prior symptoms.

Higher heart-related deaths than typical were found among fans of the losing teams in past Super Bowls, the American football championship game, researchers reported in 2011 in the journal Clinical Cardiology. A German study published in 2008 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that a “stressful” soccer match more than tripled the risk of a cardiac emergency among male fans.

Close Matches

In this year’s World Cup in Brazil, matches other than Brazil versus Chile have been just as dramatic with goals in the last five minutes changing the results of six group stage games, and two knockouts, including Argentina’s 1-0 victory over Switzerland yesterday. With penalties looming, Lionel Messi found Angel di Maria and the Real Madrid midfielder gave Argentina the victory two minutes before the end of extra time.

“Suffering, that was how we felt in the pitch,” Messi said after the game.

Brazil will face Colombia on July 4 in a quarter-finals match in Fortaleza.

The 63-year-old man who suffered cardiac arrest yesterday was attended in the Corinthians stadium for 1 1/2 hours before being transported to the hospital, where he died, the Santa Marcelina hospital that attended him said in a statement. The fan at the June 28 Brazil-Chile match also died, local media reported.

“Emotion is present, emotion is important, and emotion can kill,” Ghorayeb said.

--With assistance from Michelle Fay Cortez in Minneapolis.