A new sports danger?

Some male spectators put off heading to ER until after game is over

October 13, 2006|By Chris Emery | Chris Emery,Sun reporter

A previously unrecognized hurdle prevents some men from getting proper treatment in a medical emergency - televised sports.

That's the finding of a new study that tallied emergency room visits at a Baltimore hospital after sporting events, including Orioles and Ravens games.

The conclusion: Sick or injured men often wait until the end of the game to seek help - a behavior doctors regard as very risky.

"We're not so concerned about the trivial cases - for example, there are probably a lot of minor [cuts]," said Dr. David Jerrard, the study's lead researcher. "What we worry about are the serious cases."

The number of men admitted to the emergency room at the Baltimore Veteran's Affairs Medical Center spiked in the hours after 796 professional and college games, the study found. Those post-game surges contrasted with lulls in patient visits during the games.

The study looked at Orioles games and Sunday and Monday night NFL contests, including Ravens games. About 50 percent more men were admitted to the emergency room after NFL games than during the games. After Orioles games, 30 percent to 40 percent more men sought treatment.

Local college games created similar bumps in hospital traffic. After University of Maryland football games, for example, 70 percent to 75 percent more men arrived at the emergency room.

The researchers did not note the specific injuries or illnesses for which the sports fans sought treatment, or the reasons they delayed going to the hospital.

"We are looking into that right now," said Jerrard, an associate professor at University of Maryland Medical Center.

He hypothesized, however, that the men wait to see the final score before they go to the hospital - a risky behavior. "They need to be aware there could be some serious consequences," he said. "If they are having serious symptoms, they should not wait."

He said it's also possible that the game itself can be hazardous. "We don't make any claims to that [effect]," he said. "But it could be that someone develops chest pains because a game is going especially well or especially poorly."

Jerrard plans to present his findings at a meeting of the American College of Emergency Physicians next week in New Orleans.

The results of the study didn't surprise Dr. Jeffrey Bernstein, an emergency room physician at St. Joseph Medical Center. He said, "It's something that everybody has always thought: During a sporting event it gets very quiet."

Last year it was so quiet that he even caught part of the Super Bowl on TV. And when a nurse told him about Janet Jackson's wardrobe "malfunction" in 2004, he found time to watch the rest of the Super Bowl halftime show. "I usually don't have time for that," he said.

Although the Super Bowl may be a particularly big draw, Jarrard's research suggests that regular season games are enough to keep some ailing fans away from the ER.

Even untelevised local games can be overly gripping for some spectators. For Shannon Steele of Glen Arm, a local high school soccer match was all it took. Steele, 48, passed out last week while watching his 14-year-old son, Ryan, play at Archbishop Spalding High School.

"We were down two to nothing," he remembers. An ambulance arrived, but Steele, who regained consciousness after five minutes, refused to leave until the game was over 40 minutes later. "I wasn't going to miss it," he said. "It seems like a major event to you when you're a father."

When doctors told him he may have had a minor stroke, Steele regretted not seeking help sooner. "If it had been a major stroke, time is of the essence," he said. "I didn't take it seriously enough."

Ryan's team, he added, won 4 to 3.

chris.emery@baltsun.com

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