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September 26, 2016

Watching the presidential debate could be heart-stopping, doctor warns

Cardiologist says forum could increase number of cardiac events

The first presidential debate between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump is bound to infuriate untold numbers of Americans who tune in at 9 p.m. Monday.

It could prove hazardous to the health.

The greatly anticipated showdown holds the potential to send some viewers into cardiac arrest, according to a local cardiologist.

"This is a very polarizing debate," said Dr. Vincent Figueredo, chief of clinical cardiology at Einstein Medical Center in North Philadelphia. "People are getting very angry. It's not too much of a stretch to say the people watching the presidential debate, who get very upset, could be at an increased risk of having a cardiac event."

No one has apparently studied the impact a presidential debate has on heart health. But studies show high-stakes soccer matches, where fans quickly can become upset, prompt increased numbers of cardiac arrest. 

Figueredo views the presidential debate in the same vein.

"Again, I think we're at a time in history where we're as polarized as we've been in a long time," Figueredo said. "People, I think, are more angry and more prone to getting upset. There's the potential for an increased risk."

Cardiovascular disease events increased 2.7 times in men and 1.8 times in women on the days that Germany participated in the quarterfinals and semifinals of the 2006 World Cup, according to one study. Similar research found a 25 percent increase in myocardial infarction admissions in London on the day England lost to Argentina on penalty kicks during the 1998 World Cup.

Such events have the capability to increase acute stress — a response generated from a distressing event or situation. Also, traumatic events, like earthquakes, are well known for sharply increasing their number. 

"If you suddenly get upset, your adrenaline levels go up," Figueredo said. "Your heart rate goes up. Your blood pressure goes up. The work of your heart is increased. ... It could potentially tip you over to have an event at that time."

Anyone who finds themselves getting upset during the debate should remove the stress, Figueredo said. That means turning the TV off or going into another room.

"Remember it's just a debate," Figueredo said. "Whether you agree or disagree, don't let it acutely stress you out. If it is, walk away. Go in the other room and have a glass of water."

The presidential debate — the first of three — will be held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, and hosted by NBC Nightly News anchor Lester Holt.