`Tis the season for heart attacks?



‘Tis the season for joy and cheers … and cardiac events. Okay, I don’t want to dampen your high spirits during the holidays but it has been shown again and again that there is a distinct spike in the number of heart attacks during December-January, particular around Christmas and New Year. According to WebMD, there has been generally an overall 5% increase heart-related deaths during the holiday season based on mortality statistics from 1973 to 2001. Let us look at the reasons why.

Is it the weather?

The winter season does have some adverse effects on our heart health. The cold weather causes blood vessels to constrict, which in turn elevates blood pressure. Blood clots also occur more easily. Extremely cold temperatures and physical exertion put too much burden on the heart. These are the ingredients for coronary heart disease and heart attacks.

Is it the holiday season?

A study published in circulation reported:

“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.”

And this pattern is not only true in the cold northern parts of the US. The same trend has been observed in Los Angeles where winters are not necessarily freezing. Some hypotheses put forward by health experts are:

  • People delay consulting their doctors despite feeling ill until after the holidays, mainly to avoid disrupting holiday festivities and travel plans.

“People just tend to put off seeking medical help during the holidays. They tend to wait till afterwards, which I think is a mistake.”

  • GPs are not easily available whereas hospitals and emergency clinics are short-staffed during the holiday. These can lead again to delay in treatment as well as decrease in the quality of care of those who decide to go to the hospital.
  • The holiday season is simply a very unhealthy season when people eat too much, drink too much, forego on exercise, get too much stress and get too little sleep.

“People tend to gain weight during the holiday season and take in more salt, which can put additional stress on a weakened heart.”

However, all the risk factors that may lead to increased heart attacks at this time of the year are actually modifiable. Dr. Robert A. Kloner, a researcher at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California gives us the following tips:

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NOTE: The contents in this blog are for informational purposes only, and should not be construed as medical advice, diagnosis, treatment or a substitute for professional care. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health professional before making changes to any existing treatment or program. Some of the information presented in this blog may already be out of date.
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