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Studies have identified a spike––about a 5 percent lift––in heart-related deaths in the U.S. from Dec. 25 to Jan. 7. What is it, if anything, about the holiday season that increases your risk for fatal cardiac events like heart attacks? Stressful family reunions? Alcohol-fueled celebrations? Grandma’s not-so-heart-healthy dinner spread? Researchers continue to study the phenomenon and have a few theories.
It’s in the forecast.
The cold-weather season can be especially hard on the heart, especially for those with underlying cardiac conditions. Your blood vessels constrict in the cold, increasing your blood pressure. That added strain coupled with a strenuous activity, like shoveling your property after a winter storm, can trigger an attack. The cold weather could play into some of the occurrences but doesn’t explain the same trend in warm-weather climates.
Heart stressors are high.
The holiday season is associated with a selfless spirit. People often forget to take care of themselves and are instead jumping from social gathering to work party to family dinner, which can leave you spread thin and feeling worn down. Being in certain places or seeing certain people can also trigger emotional stress that can cause an increase in your heart rate and blood pressure. Too many stressors can even bring on a sudden cardiac death in people with heart disease.
Food and drink vices are aplenty.
One rich holiday meal or New Year’s Eve toast should not be a concern, but if someone with heart disease and high blood pressure overindulges in alcohol, sweets and fatty foods, it can have dangerous consequences on blood pressure and cholesterol––factors that drive heart attacks.
Care commitments get put on hold.
No one wants to ruin a good time. When you’re traveling and spending time with family, your personal care tends to get ignored. Your normal healthy eating and exercise routine become inconsistent, and you may not be as diligent with taking prescription heart medications as you normally are. Missing even just a few doses of heart medication can have significant, adverse effects on your blood pressure.
Some people may feel hesitant to express that they’re experiencing attack warning signs like chest pain or discomfort in one or both arms, sudden fatigue or shortness of breath for fear of ruining the holiday. Don’t ignore symptoms just because they happen right before all your houseguests are expected to arrive.
If you or a loved one is experiencing heart attack symptoms speak up and call 9-1-1 immediately. If emergency strikes during the holidays, know you have South Jersey’s most respected health systems ready to help close to home at Cardiac Partners at Cooper and Inspira. Call for your appointment today. 833-SJHEART