During the holidays, we frequently indulge in a number of activities that may increase our risk of a heart attack. And more heart attacks occur during the holiday season, according to research on the subject.
In 1999, Dr. Robert Kloner at USC in California headed a study evaluating 222,265 death records from Los Angeles.
“Cardiac deaths in December and January were found to be 33% higher than in summer months, with a dramatic increase in deaths starting at Thanksgiving and continuing through the New Year's holiday,” reported The Los Angeles Times.
One might want to attribute this to “winter” weather but while it is colder in Los Angeles in their winter, people are not typically shoveling snow or doing other exertional winter activities.
Though this is an older study, it is still frequently referenced today.
Another follow-up study in 2004, published in Circulation led by Sociologist David Phillips, found that nation wide, 5 percent more deaths — cardiac as well as non-cardiac — occurred around the two holiday weeks from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7. This was based on a review of 53 million U.S. death certificates from between the years of 1973 and 2001.
The researchers also found that the three peak days when deaths occurred were Dec. 25, Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.
The question is, what are people doing during holiday times that may increase their risk of heart attacks?
For one, there is a condition called "holiday heart syndrome."
Holiday heart syndrome is when a person’s heart develops an irregular heart rhythm after drinking large amounts of alcohol. Having an irregular heart rhythm can increase one’s risk of a heart attack.
The term was coined after a 1978 study by Philip Ettinger who observed 24 patients who had irregular heart rhythms after a weekend of holiday binge drinking.
Medscape states that there are reports of similar irregular heart rhythms after recreational use of marijuana.
Dr. Kevin Campbell, the author of “Women and Cardiovascular Disease: Addressing Disparities in Care,” stated in a Fox News report that consuming large amounts of food, salt and caffeine could also contribute to a risk of holiday heart syndrome.
Campbell suggests that following these health tips may help avoid increased strain on your heart during holiday time.
1) Avoid overeating
Over distention of the stomach can stimulate receptors that may speed up your heart leading to a rapid irregular rhythm.
2) Avoid consuming too much salt
Excessive salt intake can increase blood pressure and lead to other cardiac and breathing problems, especially if you already have a history and are on medications.
3) Avoid binge drinking
Red wine has been found in some studies to be helpful in preventing heart disease but excessive drinking can put more strain on our heart and may cause increased release of stress hormones in our body.
4) Don't put off getting help
If you or a loved one feel symptoms of any heart or other health related medical problems, do not delay seeking medical care.
Phillips, the researcher from the 2004 study, said that increased death rates around holiday time could also be due to a lack of good quality medical care when someone falls ill.
"The most plausible explanation we've found so far is that people seem to be postponing medical care until after the holidays," said Phillips. Also, when people travel during the holidays, he told the L.A. Times, "they are less able to find medical care because they are in strange territory."
Deaths from natural causes spike during the holidays. Los Angeles Times.com. December 20, 2004 by Valerie Reitman. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
Holiday Heart Syndrome. Medscape.com. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
Holiday heart syndrome: How to reduce your risk. Foxnews.com. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
Why cardiac problems spike during the holidays and how to stay heart healthy. WebMD. Retrieved November 29, 2015.
Michele is an R.N. freelance writer with a special interest in woman’s healthcare and quality of care issues.
Edited by Jody Smith