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Chest Pains Up During Cubs Games, ER Visits Up When Game Ends, Doctors Say

By Joe Ward | October 27, 2016 5:50am
 Don't wait until after the game to seek treatment for your stress-related illnesses, doctors said.
Don't wait until after the game to seek treatment for your stress-related illnesses, doctors said.
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DNAinfo/Ariel Cheung

CHICAGO — If you're feeling a throbbing pain in your chest or stomach during one of the Cubs' World Series games, you should probably visit an emergency room, according to medical professionals.

And, no, you should not wait until after the game.

With the Cubs playing in their first World Series since 1945, local emergency rooms are bracing for a potentially busy weekend. They're also making sure Cubs fans know what ailments they could suffer from and how to avoid them.

Sports fan hospitalizations are not contained to trauma and drunken-revelry injuries, according to two medical professionals who specialize in emergency room care. Just as big of an issue for sports fans can be cardiac arrest or serious indigestion caused by sports-induced anxiety and overindulging during games.

And local hospitals like NorthShore University HealthSystem, in Evanston are planning to see it all this weekend.

"It's going to be a range of things," said Dr. Ernest Wang, emergency room physician at NorthShore. "Too much to drink. Abdominal pain from too much eating. Chest pain. Sometimes it's hard to parse out if it's the eating or if it's stress from the game."

Many fans have enough self control to prevent overeating or overdrinking to the point of illness, but far fewer are able to handle by themselves the stress that can come with watching your team in the big game, Wang said.

And there is a correlation between watching big sporting events and suffering cardiac arrest.

A study by the New England Journal of Medicine looked at German fans during the 2006 World Cup, and found that watching a "stressful" soccer match more than doubles the risk of a cardiovascular event.

Some fans are more susceptible to heart issues than others. Older men with existing health issues should know the risk of becoming too worked up during the World Series, Wang said. (The study showed that men were much more likely to suffer cardiac issues during sports viewing than women.)

"There's a risk for certain folks," Wang said. "You're getting anxiety about the game, getting worked up, I wouldn't wait. If it's potentially a heart problem, you should come in."

And what should you do if the Cubs have you overstressed?

"It's probably better to walk out of the room," Wang said. "If the problem persists, then you should probably seek attention."

Definitely don't wait until after the game end to seek treatment, Wang said. That happens much more often than you might believe, he said.

"People don't come in until after" the game, he said.

Wang was a resident at Northwestern Memorial Hospital during the '90s, when Bulls championships sent the city into a frenzy.

The emergency room would only get crowded after the games, Wang said.

"It was really quiet," he said. "Then people rush in."

NorthShore and Advocate Illinois Masonic Medical Center will be prepared this weekend for any emergency room rush. 

Illinois Masonic, 836 W. Wellington Ave., is the Level-1 trauma center closest to Wrigley Field. Its emergency room likely won't get crowded until after the game or even after the bars close, said Anna Scaccia, emergency department director at the hospital.

"That's when they're actually getting injured," Scaccia said.

Illinois Masonic does first aid at Cubs games, and if a fans need to be hospitalized from the game, they go to Masonic, Scaccia said. The hospital mostly sees patients who are drunk or have suffered some kind of trauma, but cardiac issues due to stress and anxiety do happen she said.

Scaccia said she's expecting just that this weekend, when Wrigley Field hosts its first World Series games since 1945, will be a lot like Gay Pride Parade weekend, where many patients come in with alcohol poisoning and trauma injuries. (Emergency rooms visits from Cubs fans have remained at regular-season levels this playoff run, she said.)

"We're prepared for that same type of patient," Scaccia said.

The Chicago Fire Department and the Office of Emergency Management and Communication are working to block off streets near Illinois Masonic to ensure a "nice, clean route" to the emergency room, Scaccia said.

And though the World Series in Chicago might mean a headache for emergency room professionals, Scaccia said they're rooting for the Cubs just like everyone else.

"While we're prepared, we're also excited," she said.

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