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Holiday heart attacks: What you need to know

January 05, 2019 | Juan Weksler, M.D.

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Heart disease kills more people annually than any other disease, and heart attacks make up the majority of deaths related to heart disease. Did you know that deadly heart attacks increase during the winter with distinct spikes around Christmas and New Year’s Day?

 

According to a study published in the journal Circulation, the incidence of heart-related deaths is five percent higher around Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time of the year.

 

Obviously, the progression of heart disease doesn't happen overnight, so an increase in cardiac death during the holidays is actually more the acute manifestations of the disease. There are many different factors that could play a role. For instance, cold weather can constrict arteries and increase demand on the heart. Holiday-related activities including increased consumption of sugar, salt and alcohol; busy schedules; and less time for sleep and exercise all tax the cardiovascular system, increasing the risk of a heart-related event.

 

There is also the theory that people don’t want to disrupt festivities, so they ignore heart attack symptoms, or incorrectly attribute them to some other cause like indigestion.

 

Because time is critical when it comes to treating a heart attack, it’s important to know the warning signs before they occur. They include:

  • Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  • Other signs may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

 

If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, don’t ignore them and postpone treatment because you’re worried about spoiling the holiday fun. During a heart attack, time is critical. A delay of a few minutes can make the difference between surviving with a healthy heart, surviving with a very damaged heart — or dying. So call 911 immediately.

 

Whether you have a history of heart problems or not, it’s important to protect your heart by practicing good habits, particularly during the holidays:

  • Manage and reduce stress, schedule time to relax.
  • Try to maintain healthy eating habits – stock up on fruits and vegetables and don’t overdo the desserts.
  • Limit alcohol.
  • Get proper sleep, try to maintain a sleep schedule.
  • Take the time to exercise.
  • Keep realistic expectations - high ones can not only set you up to fail, but can add stress.
  • Keep up with your medication routine and doctor appointments.

 

Don’t delay: If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911.

When the holidays are over, remember heart disease remains a leading threat to America’s health. If you have any concerns about your health, talk with your health care provider. To schedule an appointment to discuss any heart health concerns you may have, call us at 419-660-4707. Wishing you happy and healthy holiday season!

Dr. Juan Weksler is part of the new Fisher-Titus Heart & Vascular physician group. Dr. Weksler comes to Fisher-Titus after practicing interventional cardiology at Baptist Health Corbin in Corbin, Kentucky. Prior to that he was Director of Cardiovascular Services and Director of Cardiac Rehabilitation at Avista Adventist Hospital in Louisville, Colorado. Dr. Weksler is fellowship-trained in Interventional Cardiology and Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions.