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The Truth Behind More Holiday Heart Attacks

Why cardiac problems spike during the holidays and how to stay heart healthy.

Holiday Heart Attack Triggers continued...

In the Circulation study, researchers suggested people might delay getting treatment because they don’t want to disrupt Christmas and New Year’s festivities. Kloner, who did not participate in this study, agrees. “People just tend to put off seeking medical help during the holidays. They tend to wait till afterwards, which I think is a mistake,” he says. Or holiday travelers might take longer to find competent medical care, which heightens the risk. Also, hospitals may be short-staffed on major holidays.

Kloner believes other factors may play a role, such as emotional stress and overindulgence. During the holidays, legions of Americans eat too much and drink more alcohol -- while ditching their exercise routine. Needless to say, this combo isn’t healthy for the heart. “People tend to gain weight during the holiday season and take in more salt, which can put additional stress on a weakened heart,” according to Kloner.

Preventing Holiday Heart Attacks

While researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact reasons for the Christmas coronary, Kloner recommends these common-sense measures during this special time of year:

Pile on the layers. Try to avoid exposure to very cold temperatures. Dress warmly.

Take a load off. Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much physical exertion (especially snow shoveling), anger, and emotional stress.

Make good choices. Avoid excess salt and alcohol. Too much drinking -- for example, binge drinking -- can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm in which disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers to contract irregularly. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.

Get a shot. Consider getting a flu vaccination. Infection and fever put extra stress on the heart.

Breathe. Go indoors during air pollution alerts but try to avoid breathing smoke from wood-burning fireplaces. If you’re visiting another home during the holidays, sit as far away as you can from a burning fireplace. Ultra-fine particles in the air can be bad for the heart.

Get help. If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911 for emergency help. The stakes are high. So give yourself and your family a gift this season. Don’t postpone treatment because you don’t want to spoil the holiday merrymaking.


Reviewed on September 28, 2011

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