Research shows Americans have more fatal heart attacks during the holiday season than any other time of the year. In fact, according to a study published in Circulation, the top three days for heart attacks are December 25, December 26 and January 1, respectively. Regardless of where we live, researchers have found, we are more susceptible to heart attacks in the winter months, even if it is 72 and sunny in California. “A seasonal pattern to deaths from heart attack is well documented with more fatal events occurring in the winter in comparison to the summer,” says Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist, Dr. Eugene Ichinose.
Dr. Ichinose says studies reveal “exposure to particulate air pollution and vehicular traffic, as well as the first hour after a heavy meal can increase the risk for a heart attack four-fold.” Even if something is weighing heavy on our heart, Dr. Ichinose says, it could cause a heart attack. “Emotional stress may be influencing the more frequent occurrence of heart attacks by causing increased heart rate, vascular tone, platelet ‘stickiness,’” says Dr. Ichinose.
So what can we do to help protect ourselves from a heart attack this holiday? Here is important information to share with your family and friends.
Don’t Put off Medical Attention – Despite the big family gatherings, office parties and travel plans, if you are not feeling right, don’t wait until after the holidays to get it checked out. Know the signs of a heart attack and talk with your doctor immediately. Taking the right precautions early can help stop a heart attack in its tracks.
Reduce Stress – With end of year events, projects at work, parties, shopping, and shorter days, we tend to feel rushed and stressed during this time of the year. Reduce your stress and help give your heart a break by getting in regular exercise and good quality sleep, eat as healthy as you can and try not to overload yourself with multiple commitments.
Try Not to Overindulge – The holidays are nearly synonymous with indulgence. With many events centered on the food and drinks served, set a plan for yourself to enjoy the food and spirits, while not overindulging. Too much drinking, for example, can trigger atrial fibrillation, which can increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Ditch the Digging – While we benefit from regular exercise, especially during the holidays, extreme physical exertion like shoveling show can be bad for our hearts. If a big winter storm moves in, consider asking a neighbor or friend to help shovel your sidewalks and driveway. If you smoke, have a family history of coronary artery disease or have had a previous heart attack, it is best to leave the shoveling up to someone else.
Avoid Exposure to Cold Temperatures – Winter weather can be hard on the body, especially the heart. Cold temperatures cause arteries to tighten, which can restrict blood flow and reduce oxygen to the heart. While the heart is working harder maintain body temperature, restricted blood flow and reduced oxygen to the heart can trigger a heart attack. Reduce exposure to cold temperatures outside and make sure the heat is on inside to help alleviate stress on your heart.
Get Your Flu Shot – A recent study has found getting a flu shot can help reduce the risk of a heart attack, stroke and cardiac death by 50 percent. For those with heart disease, the flu shot can help reduce the risk of flu-related complications, which is especially important considering more people die from the flu who have heart disease than any other chronic condition.
Keep Your Distance from the Fireplace – Although there’s nothing like cozying up to the fire when it’s cold outside, smoke from the fireplace is a carcinogenic like the smoke a cigarette. Studies have found the fine particles from the smoke can go deep into the lungs and increase the risk for heart attack and stroke.
Holidays are a time to enjoy the company of family and friends, take in the sights and sounds, and create memories. Oklahoma Heart Institute cardiologist, Dr. Stephen Dobratz reminds us to take this opportunity to stay on top of our health as well. “Give yourself a Christmas present,” says Dr. Dobratz. “Have a stress test. Know your cholesterol. Check your blood pressure. Screen for abdominal aneurysm where appropriate, PAD and carotid disease.”