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Woman's soccer-induced anxiety could kill her

Nigel Roddis / Reuters

Wolverhampton Wanderers' Ronald Zubar challenges Manchester United's Nani during their English Premier League soccer match in Manchester, on Dec. 10.

The stress of watching the final nail-biting minutes of a Manchester United match is enough to trigger life-threatening anxiety for one 58-year-old superfan, according to a new report published this week in the British Medical Journal

The woman experienced palpitations, panic, light-headedness and even a "sense of impending doom" toward the end of the most high-profile matches played on Man U's home turf at Old Trafford Stadium, particularly when the opposing teams were rival clubs like Chelsea or Manchester City. "On these occasions she considered leaving the stadium because she felt so unwell," write the authors of the report, including Akbar Choudhry, who treated the woman. In contrast, when her beloved Red Devils were playing a team that didn't stand a chance, her symptoms became barely noticeable. 

As a result of her football fanaticism, doctors were able to diagnose her with Addison's disease, which means her adrenal glands do not produce enough of their hormones, including cortisol. The drop in cortisol triggers an Addisonian crisis, a medical emergency that can be life-threatening. 

Addison's disease is difficult to diagnose, and as many as 60 percent of those with the disorder are seen by at least two clinicians before the diagnosis is even considered, according to the BMJ report. That's likely because the most visible symptoms include fatigue, lethargy and a mild depression, all of which are characteristics of many chronic conditions. But this woman's severe anxiety during high-stress games led her doctors to diagnose her with Addison's disease. 

Doctors treated the woman with cortisol replacement therapy -- fortunately for her, the start of her treatment happen to coincide with the start of Manchester United's 2011/12 season, allowing her to attend games without any Addison's symptoms. "Luckily, the patient was on holiday for United's 6-1 defeat by local rivals Manchester City in October," Choudhry said in a report on BMJ.com.