How dangerous it is to ride roller coasters

Exciting roller coaster - ten minutes after the ride, the heart is still beating irregularly

A roller coaster ride is harmless for a healthy body, sums up the cardiologist and trauma doctor at the Mannheim Clinic, Dr. Jürgen Kuschyk. In patients with cardiac insufficiency and cardiac arrhythmias, however, it looks different. In a serial examination six weeks ago, Kuschyk recorded an EKG from around 60 roller coaster riders between the ages of 18 and 70 while driving (we reported). He has now presented the results at the Holiday Park in Haßloch.

During a ride on the roller coaster, peak values ​​of up to 200 heartbeats per minute are measured. According to the cardiologist, this is not a problem for a healthy heart. The mean value was around 150 beats per minute.

Especially at the start, when no physical stress is experienced, the heart rate rises considerably: If it is still around 90 beats per second in the station of the roller coaster, it rises to around 130 during the slow journey to the highest point of the ride.

"It is probably the emotional excitement that makes the heart beat faster," explains Kuschyk. In the almost free fall at a depth of 60 meters, nothing happens at first. Only 30 seconds after the event did the heart rate rise to 150 beats per minute. A heart rate of 110 is still measured at the finish.

The cardiologist was surprised by the reaction after the trip: "There were slight rhythmic irregularities up to about ten minutes after the end of the trip." He didn't expect that. "This is not dangerous for healthy people." He advises, however, to take breaks between journeys. "This is absolutely necessary so that the heart rhythm and the organism can recover."

Kuschyk strongly advises heart attack patients, people with cardiac arrhythmias or cardiac insufficiency as well as overweight people not to ride an extreme roller coaster like the one in the Holiday Park in Haßloch: "For this group of people, the fun stops at 200 heartbeats per minute." The measurements showed that cardiac arrhythmias could become worse after the journey. The risk of ventricular fibrillation cannot be ruled out.

In such a case, only a defibrillator could save a person's life. Such a device is usually available in every amusement park. However, many people lack the courage to deal with such a patient, explained the founder of the Björn Steiger Foundation, Siegfried Steiger. He has been campaigning for the spread of the device for many years, and we owe him the emergency telephones on the motorways.

People with pacemakers are also exposed to incalculable dangers on a rollercoaster ride. On the one hand, there is a risk that the pulse generators in the heart will come loose, on the other hand, the magnetic fields that brake the train could negatively affect the pacemaker, warns Kuschyk. There is an acute danger to life here. Park manager Wolfgang Schneider emphasized that appropriate warning signs drew attention to the dangers. As far as he knows, no one in the world has died as a result of a rollercoaster ride.

Kuschyk still wants to investigate what effects the adrenaline rush before and during the journey has on the organism.