Kampala — In 2001, Sports Club Villa were playing their last game of the season against Majji Football Club and were leading with 1-0 when Julius of Majji equalised. One Sanyu, a die-hard Villa fan, collapsed. In Nigeria, Bola Ogunleye suddenly slumped and died on February 6 this year after Yusuf Ayila, a Super Eagles player, missed a penalty at the Africa Nations Cup quarter-final match between Nigeria and Tunisia.
Doctors fear that with the rise in factors abetting cardiovascular complications (wrong diet, sedentary life, HIV), football will soon join the list of killers.
In the ongoing World Cup in Germany, pressure, excitement and tension are increasing and will continue with time and stage. How many will still be standing by July 9? Fans, with or without health complications (heart problems, diabetes and hypertension) have died or fainted as a result of the excitement, pressure and anxiety. It could be you, a relative or friend. So, are you fit enough to watch the World Cup?
Why fans collapse or die
Dr John Omagino, a cardiothoracic surgery consultant and deputy director Uganda Heart Institute, explains that the body normally works at 15% of its heart capacity. When excited, it readjusts by using the 85% reserve. However, when the reserve is exhausted, someone collapses.
"When the body is excited, blood pressure, heartbeat rate and breathing increase. Blood vessels are forced to enlarge to let through an increased supply of blood to the heart and all other functional body organs. When the body loses reserve to accommodate that need, it fails," says Omagino.
Excitement-inducing activities raise body activities to between two to five times its normal function. The heartbeat increases from 72 times per minute to 100 or more times per minute and blood pressure also increases.
The body has normal pressure required to pump blood to the rest of it and normal pressure required to pump blood to the ventricles. And the normal pressure levels are 130/90 or less. The 130 represents the pressure pumping blood to the body (hystolit) and 90 represents the pressure pumping blood to ventricles (diastolit).
During excitement, a football fan with a normal pressure level (130/90 or below) should be able to adjust to the increase in heartbeat rates as well as increased blood pressure levels. But if a fan has diseases like high blood pressure, hypertension or diabetes, the system will break down.
"The blood pressure for those with hypertension is normally 180/100. During excitement, it increases by 50 or more, putting it over 200. And since the body was already having problems with 180/100, the person will get a stroke," Omagino says.
He explains that although normal bodies (physically fit) readjust, normality is relative and people should not take their health for granted. One may look normal but may have salient problems like partial clogging of blood vessels, which cannot handle pressure above normal levels.
Omagino says such health irregularities never show symptoms but are potential causes of heart attacks when a fan is excited.
Psychologists say football should be good for health. Guston Byamugisha, a lecturer in the Department of Psychology at Kyambogo University, says it helps to relieve stress.
"For many people in Uganda, the work environment is very stressful and not professionally designed. The extended nature of our families also leaves nothing to look forward to after office. So football creates a necessary diversion," he says.
Byamugisha explains that the problem comes up when two football fans become so engaged in it that it becomes a personal competition. This creates tension, stress and anxiety. When the team loses, it is taken personally and the fan develops depression and blinding anger.
Stress, anxiety and depression have an effect on an individual's physical health. Effects include sleeplessness, fatigue and trauma.
The physical symptoms stem from reduced immunity to include a wide range of infections like frequent colds, glandular fever and pains with no clear cause (diagnosed as fibromyalgia: back pain, chest pains and angina).
Others are high blood pressure, headaches, sweating, hormonal problems (disturbed menstrual cycle, loss of libido), skin irritations and loss of appetite.
How to watch safely
Fans with pressure, hypertension and diabetes or heart complications should avoid emotional excitement because there is little room for drugs to reduce pressure to safe levels. Keep in touch with your doctor for advice.
Check your blood pressure and stop watching if you feel hyper, avoid places choked with cigarette smoke and temptation to take beers with sugar ingredients.
Dr Jjuuko Ndawula, a consultant on alternative therapy, says mushrooms help.
"Mushrooms have potassium, which regularises your heartbeat and improves oxygen supply to your brain," he says.
For stress, eat tree tomatoes or temerines. "They promote mental calmness and inner strength. Jackfruit also calms down anxiety and high sensitivities. The high sugar and low fibre releases tension in nerves and muscles," Ndawula says. Pigeon pea also calms the nerves in the face of ecstatic excitement.