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Why Do Heart Attacks Spike Over the Holidays?


Doctor’s Advice,

For many people, the holiday season is a great time of year. There are constant festivities between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day, providing ample opportunities to celebrate with family and friends. Unfortunately, this continuous revelry comes with a dangerous risk – heart attacks tend to spike during this time of the year. According to the American Heart Association, cardiac fatalities are 5% higher during the holiday season than the rest of the year.

A study published in the AHA Journal Circulation identifies December 25, December 26, and January 1 as the top three days of the year for cardiac deaths. This holds true in all areas of the country. Whether you live in a frigid climate such as Minnesota or a warm, sunny location such as Southern California, heart attacks spike during the holiday season.

At South Denver Cardiology Associates, we want you to enjoy a festive and memorable holiday season with family and friends. Still, we want to ensure you stay healthy during this time of the year. The best way to avoid a holiday heart attack is to understand why they occur and what you can do to minimize your risk.

Common Causes of Holiday Heart Attacks

A variety of factors contribute to an increased risk of heart attacks during the holiday season:

  • Excessive eating and drinking – Holiday gatherings are typically decadent affairs associated with overindulgence in food and alcohol. Holiday meals are packed with delicious but unhealthy foods that are often high in sodium. This raises your blood pressure and causes your heart to work harder. In addition, excessive holiday alcohol consumption can be dangerous for your heart health.
  • Increased stress – For many people, the holidays can be stressful. Depression is common among people who spend holidays alone or feel the weight of deceased family members who aren’t there to celebrate. Others commonly experience stress and anxiety over seeing certain family members or due to the demands of hosting a large holiday gathering. Stress, anxiety, and depression can negatively impact your heart health.
  • Overexertion – For some, the holidays are a relaxing time providing a much-needed break from the rigors of everyday life. But for others, it can be a time of intense physical exertion. Shoveling snow and taking the kids out sledding can stress your heart if you’re not physically fit. In addition, large holiday gatherings can be physically taxing on the host, resulting in several days of continuous activity to prepare the house, cook meals, entertain guests, and clean up.
  • Ignoring symptoms – Responding quickly to the warning signs of a heart attack is critical. Unfortunately, many people tend to ignore these symptoms when they appear during the holidays, assuming it’ll be fine to get evaluated after the New Year. Ignoring symptoms when they develop will increase your risk of a serious cardiac issue.
  • Increase in respiratory diseases – The holidays come during peak cold and flu season. These respiratory diseases can place extra pressure on your heart, increasing the risk of heart attack for individuals who already have heart problems.
  • Cold temperatures – While this doesn’t apply to everyone, it certainly impacts individuals living in Colorado. Cold weather during the holiday season causes blood vessels to constrict, making your heart work harder. Because of the cold and weight of the snow, if you are a heart patient, it’s recommended not to shovel snow.
  • Skipping medications – Taking heart medications on a regular schedule is crucial for them to work properly. Unfortunately, it’s common for people to forget to pack medications when traveling for the holidays, forget to refill prescriptions before they travel, or get sloppy on maintaining a proper medication regimen due to the nonstop festivities and drinking.

Tips for Reducing Your Risk of a Holiday Heart Attack

The following tips will help minimize your risk of a heart attack this holiday season:

  • holiday eating increases risk of heart attackEat and drink in moderation – Resist that urge to overeat during the holidays, and try to limit your consumption of foods that are unhealthy for your heart. Keeping your holiday drinking at a moderate level will also help your heart health.
  • Minimize stress – Take steps to reduce stress during the holiday season. Get plenty of sleep, exercise regularly, and don’t overextend yourself with more commitments than you can realistically take on.
  • Don’t overexert yourself – Limit extreme levels of physical exertion, such as shoveling snow after a big winter storm, playing with the kids for extended periods, or pushing yourself too hard when hosting a holiday party. Ask for help with these tasks so that you don’t place extra stress on your heart.
  • Get a flu shot – Getting a flu shot can significantly reduce your risk of a heart attack.
  • Seek prompt medical attention if you experience symptoms – If you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, or other symptoms associated with a heart attack, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t wait until the holidays are over to visit a cardiologist.
  • Wear warm layers in the cold – Dress warmly when outside in the cold. Pay special attention to keeping your head, arms, and feet warm, as these areas of the body shed heat quickly. Be mindful of elderly relatives who may be less aware of how severely cold weather impacts their ability to maintain a healthy core body temperature.

South Denver Cardiology Can Help You Stay Safe Over the Holidays

Are you at increased risk of a heart attack over the holidays? South Denver Cardiology can help. We can perform various diagnostic tests to assess your heart health and recommend important precautions to take this holiday season. We also offer nutritional counseling to help you navigate your holiday food choices more effectively.

Contact us today to schedule an appointment at South Denver Cardiology Associates, serving the Denver Metro area with our Heart Center in Littleton, and locations in Englewood, Denver, Parker, and Castle Rock.

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