Everyone knows that Boston Red Sox fans endured decades of pain and suffering waiting for their team to win the World Series. But it turns out that Boston area residents literally put off taking care of real medical emergencies so they could watch last fall's climactic games.

A study in the Annals of Emergency Medicine reported yesterday that emergency room visits in six greater Boston hospitals were significantly affected by the seven American League Championship Series games between the Red Sox and the New York Yankees and the subsequent four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series.

During the biggest games, emergency room visits declined precipitously -- as much as 20 percent below the historical average. In the less important games -- and especially in ones in which it looked as though the Red Sox might lose the series -- emergency room visits were 30 percent higher than during those sudden-death matches.

The researchers, from Children's Hospital Boston and Harvard Medical School, looked at Nielsen ratings for the 11 games to see how many people were watching in the Boston area (more than 1 million households per game, on average). They then collected from six hospitals the average number of emergency room visits while those games were in progress and looked at the correlation.

The result, they said, was a "dose response" in emergency room use: The bigger the game, the less likely people were to seek immediate medical help.

"These findings suggest that timing of [emergency room] utilization has a strong discretionary component," they wrote. Especially if an 86-year-old curse is on the line.