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Heart Health Center

The Truth Behind More Holiday Heart Attacks

Why cardiac problems spike during the holidays and how to stay heart healthy.
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Holiday Heart Attack Triggers

But cold extremes don’t really explain why fatal heart attacks peak on Christmas and New Year’s Day, especially among the most rapidly stricken patients. According to the Circulation study, “The number of cardiac deaths is higher on Dec. 25 than on any other day of the year, second highest on Dec. 26, and third highest on Jan. 1.”

Adding to the mystery, why do holiday heart attacks shoot up consistently across the country, even in balmy climes such as Los Angeles, where winter weather stays mild and no one ever wields a snow shovel?

In Kloner’s own research, he found one-third more coronary artery disease deaths in December and January than in June through September during a 12-year period in Los Angeles County.

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.

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