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 Friday, 20 December, 2002, 01:17 GMT
Shoot-outs 'can trigger heart attacks'
Paul Ince misses penalty against Argentina
One of the crucial misses
Penalty shoot-outs can have far more serious consequences than elimination from a football tournament, a study suggests.

Researchers found that the number of heart attacks increased by 25% when England lost to Argentina in a penalty competition at the 1998 World Cup.

Maybe people should watch these matches in small, rather than larger groups so that they avoid a kind of contagion of excitement

Professor Douglas Carroll
The findings provide firm evidence to back up the theory that heart attacks can be triggered by emotional upset.

The researchers examined hospital admissions for heart attack, stroke, deliberate self-harm, and road traffic injuries on the day of, and five days after, England's World Cup matches.

They compared them with admissions at the same time in previous and following years and in the month before the tournament.

The risk of admission for heart attack increased by 25% on 30 June 1998 - the day of the England-Argentina match - and on the following two days.

Heart attacks were more likely among men than women.

There was no sign of an increased rate of other medical problems.

Stressful situation

The authors believe that the key factor was the intense rivalry generated by matches between England and Argentina, and the fact it was a knock-out game.

This generated stress, which in some cases had serious consequences for health.

Researcher Professor Douglas Carroll, of the University of Birmingham, told BBC News Online that there were two components to a heart attack.

First, was the long-term build-up of fatty deposits in the blood vessels, and second was the formation of clots, which blocked blood supply, and triggered an attack.

His theory is that traumatic, or emotionally disturbing, events like a football match can trigger the second stage of this process in people who are already vulnerable.

Further evidence to support this theory includes an increase in heart attack admissions following earthquakes, and Scud missile attacks on the Israeli capital Tel Aviv.

Body changes

"The idea is that traumatic events directly affect systems within the body, in particular they increase blood pressure and the thickness and stickiness of the blood, creating the preconditions for a clot in people who are susceptible," he said.

"You can't get people to avoid key football matches, but perhaps they should take steps to keep calm during these sort of events.

"Maybe people should watch these matches in small, rather than larger groups so that they avoid a kind of contagion of excitement.

"Also maybe it would be a good idea to try to moderate consumption of alcohol."

Professor Carroll suggested that his findings might persuade football authorities to scrap the penalty shoot-out as a way to resolve key matches.

"The majority of football fans I know do not like penalty shoot-outs, and so given there is provisional health evidence that they might not be the greatest thing either, perhaps they ought to look for an alternative solution."

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  Stephen Pound MP, Fulham supporter
"It's all about the intensity of football"

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01 Jun 02 | Health
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