The Truth Behind More Holiday Heart Attacks
Why cardiac problems spike during the holidays and how to stay heart healthy.
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.
Take a load off. Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much
physical exertion (especially snow shoveling), anger, and emotional stress.