Christmas is one of the most anticipated times of the year but doctors say it is also the day when they generally see an increase in the incidence of heart attacks.
A study published in Circulation shows that cardiac deaths are highest on Dec. 25, followed by Dec. 26 and New Year's day.
Nasser Adjei, a cardiologist from the Sparks Regional Medical Center, cited several reasons why heart attacks tend to be prevalent during the holidays. He said that besides smoking and alcohol consumption, Christmas is also a stressful period when people typically ignore their health. Some even delay getting medical checkups and treatments because they do not want to disrupt the festivities.
"People just ignore themselves during the holiday season because we tell ourselves, it's the holiday season," he said. "We eat anything that we get because it's a celebration and during that time we really tend to overdo things and forget about taking care of ourselves."
Experts have not yet pinpointed the exact reason for the spike in heart-related deaths during the holidays but they do have several recommendations that could help prevent holiday heart attacks:
1. Keep yourself warm during the cold season
Robert Kloner, a professor at the University of Southern California's Keck School of Medicine, recommends avoiding exposure to very cold temperatures during the holidays. Cold weather is not good for the heart as it could constrict blood vessels, cause blood to clot more readily and raise blood pressure.
2. Get a flu shot
Infection and fever are heart stressors. Given that flu also tends to spike during the holidays, getting a flu vaccination is highly recommended at this time of the year. Infectious disease specialists say that the holiday sets off the spread of flu as more people, crowd and social gatherings contribute to the spread of germs. Ann Falsey, from the Rochester Regional Health, urged people to get their flu shot saying that it is never too late to get vaccinated.
"It is really never too late to get your flu shot," Falsey said. "People sometimes think 'oh, it's December it's too late.' In Rochester, January and February are our biggest flu months. But really it is unpredictable."
3. Manage stress and anger
The Christmas rush can exacerbate stress and even trigger annoyance or anger. Managing stress and handling anger in a healthy manner can lower your chances for heart related conditions. Take deep breaths and get enough sleep. Limit alcohol and caffeine, substances known to worsen anxiety.
4. Seek medical help
While it may be tempting to postpone medical check-ups during this time, the stakes can be high particularly among at-risk individuals. Do not postpone treatment and immediately call for help if you feel symptoms. Make sure you do not ignore seemingly subtle signs such as shortness of breath, chest pains, as well as hot, cold and sweaty sensations.
5. Observe moderation
It may be tempting to overindulge in alcohol and binge-eat during the holidays but this can lead to atrial fibrillation, which can cause the two upper chambers of the heart to contract irregularly. This, in turn, raises the risk of stroke, heart failure and heart attack.
Photo: Hamed Al-Raisi | Flickr