Just as everyone is getting ready for the holiday season, cardiologists are getting ready for a busy season of heart disease. Starting after Thanksgiving, there is a significant increase in heart attack rates with two distinct peaks at Christmas and New Year’s.
The increase over the next 2-3 months is thought to be due to:
- more stress
- more eating
- colder weather (although the trend is also seen in warm climates)
- more respiratory illness
- delayed treatment (because people do not want to stop and make an appointment with their doctors with all the shopping and prep to be done)
Therefore, things to consider:
- avoid delay in seeking medical attention, should cardiac symptoms occur.
- avoid the known triggers for a heart attack including: excess physical exertion (classic example is shoveling snow after a year without any exercise), overeating, lack of sleep, emotional stress
- avoid excess salt and alcohol intake. (Alcohol can also precipitate arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation – the “holiday heart syndrome”)
- Modify and treat known cardiovascular risk factors (eg, hypertension, smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol)
- Consider flu shots where appropriate.
- Use the family gatherings over the holidays to discuss family medical history and make plans to stay or get healthy
Certainly, some holiday stress cannot be avoided (“How are we going to pay for all this stuff?”), but taking care of the things that you can WILL make a difference. Maintain healthy habits and get rest when possible. Talk with your doctor if you notice any new symptoms – or if you’ve been ignoring them for a while. You don’t have to wait for the New Year to make resolutions!