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12-13-2023

More people die from heart attacks during the holidays

The winter holiday season has been identified as the most dangerous time of the year for heart attacks. During the last week of December, more people die from heart attacks than any other time of the year, according to a new report from the American Heart Association.

The study pinpointed December 25th as the day with the highest number of cardiac deaths in the United States, followed by December 26th and January 1st.

Additional evidence

Research from the British Medical Journal, based on more than 16 years of data, observed a 15 percent rise in heart attacks during the winter holidays

Notably, heart attacks surged by 37% on Christmas Eve, particularly at 10 p.m., affecting mainly those over 75 and individuals with diabetes or pre-existing heart conditions.

A study presented at the British Cardiovascular Society meeting reinforced previous findings that severe heart attacks are more common on Mondays. In 2023, Christmas Day lands on a Monday.

Sobering facts

Dr. Johanna Contreras is a clinical volunteer for the American Heart Association and a cardiologist at Mt. Sinai Hospital System in New York City. 

“No one wants to think of tragedy during this joyous time of year as we gather with family and friends. However, these startling facts are very sobering. We don’t know exactly what triggers this increase in heart attacks during the holidays, it’s likely a combination of factors,” said Dr. Contreras.

“Winter weather has been noted to increase heart attack risk due to restricted blood flow when arteries may be constricted in cold temperatures. We also know the holidays bring a lot of added stress to many people. There are lots of parties and family gatherings where many tend to overindulge in rich foods and drink.”

Ignoring the warning signs

According to Dr. Contreras, one of the most critical factors might be that people ignore important warning signs of a heart attack or stroke.

“While you may not want to spend the holidays in a doctor’s office or hospital, getting checked out and receiving prompt treatment if there is a problem is one of the best gifts you can give yourself and your loved ones for all the celebrations to come.”

Family history

Dr. Contreras emphasized the importance of not ignoring symptoms of heart attack or stroke. She also noted that family gatherings are also a good time to talk about family health history.

“Many of the health factors that impact heart disease and stroke are heredity. If any of your parents, siblings or grandparents have had a heart attack or stroke, you are likely at higher risk, too. But the good news is, you can lower your risk with preventive measures. Knowing that history is an important first step.”

Tips from the American Heart Association 

Know symptoms and take action

Heart attack signs and stroke symptoms vary in men and women and it’s important to recognize them early and call 9-1-1 for help. The sooner medical treatment begins, the better the chances of survival and preventing heart damage.

Celebrate in moderation

Eating healthfully during the holidays doesn’t have to mean depriving yourself, there are still ways to eat smart. Look for small, healthy changes and swaps you can make so you continue to feel your best while eating and drinking in moderation, and don’t forget to watch your salt intake.

Plan for peace on earth and goodwill toward yourself

Make time to take care of yourself during the busy holiday. Reduce stress from family interactions, strained finances, hectic schedules and other stressors prevalent this time of year, including traveling.

Keep moving

The American Heart Association recommends at least 150 minutes of physical activity per week and this number usually drops during the hustle and bustle of the holidays. Get creative with ways to stay active, even if it’s going for a family walk or another fun activity you can do with your loved ones.  

Stick to your meds

Busy holidays can cause you to skip medications, forgetting them when away from home or not getting refills in a timely manner. The American Heart Association has a medication chart to help stay on top of it, and be sure to keep tabs on your blood pressure numbers.

Lifesaving steps 

“Hands-Only CPR is something nearly everyone can learn and do. We encourage at least one person in every family to learn CPR because statistics show that most cardiac arrests occur outside the hospital and often in the home,” said Dr. Contreras. 

“The American Heart Association has a short instructional video at Heart.org/HandsOnlyCPR. Watching the video and learning Hands-Only CPR could be a lifesaving and life-changing activity for the family to do together as you’re gathered for the holidays.”

“We do know there are ways to mitigate your risk for a deadly heart attack. So, we encourage everyone to pause during the holiday hustle and bustle and make note of these important steps that could be lifesaving.”

The American Heart Association has more on ways to live heart-healthy during the holidays and all year long at heart.org.

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