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Why Cardiac Problems Spike During the Holidays

December 24, 2014

If you’re making a list and checking it twice this holiday season, don’t forget to add a point about maintaining your heart health to that holiday checklist.

David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California's San Diego campus, conducted research that indicated fatal heart attacks increased by 5 percent on Christmas Day, the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day. Researchers haven’t determined a primary reason for this trend, but there are several factors that could contribute to it, including overindulgence during the holidays, cold weather and people thinking they can delay health problems until after the new year.

The holiday season is typically the busiest time of year, but that doesn’t mean you should be lax about your health. Here’s some information about why cardiac problems may increase during the holidays and what you can do to stay heart healthy.

Holiday Indulgences

Whether it’s eating delicious desserts, consuming calorie-rich eggnog or filling your plate with turkey and all the trimmings, everyone overindulges between Thanksgiving and New Year’s.

However, doctors think this overindulgence may contribute to cardiac issues. Americans tend to eat and drink more than the typically would during the holiday season. Plus, between holiday travel and closing out the year at work, many people often get so busy that they put exercise on the backburner. Eating more and exercising less isn’t the best recipe for a healthy holiday season, because weight gain and consuming more high-salt foods can put added stress on your heart.

Drinking too much during the holidays also can put you at risk for cardiac problems. Researchers have identified a phenomenon called “holiday heart syndrome,” a type of irregular heartbeat caused by drinking too much alcohol. Whether you have a history of heart problems or have never had a cardiac event in your life, be sure not to overly indulge in these holiday habits. As the saying goes, everything in moderation—and in this case, that’s especially true during the holiday season.

The Weather Factor

Weather also may contribute to heart issues during the holidays. Doctors have found that people in cold climates who are typically inactive or those with heart disease may take on more rigorous outdoor activities during the holidays, such as shoveling snow. This can put added stress on the heart. Cold weather also can constrict the arteries and make the heart work harder to perform its normal functions.

And though we may live in Florida, people in warmer climates aren’t immune to risk factors for heart disease either. overlaps with the holiday season, and research has shown that illnesses such as the flu, fever and other infections can cause inflammation that isn’t good for the heart.

How the Busy Holiday Season Impacts Heart Health

As I mentioned before, people get so busy during the holiday season that they may temporarily abandon healthy habits such as eating right and exercising.

This busyness also can cause them to delay seeing a doctor, even when they suspect there may be a problem. Why? Because they don’t want to interrupt their family’s holiday celebration. Additionally, they may travel during the holidays and consider it an inconvenience to find the right medical care out of state when they can simply wait a week or so to return home and see their regular doctor.

But inconvenience aside, heart health is important no matter where you are or what you’re doing. If you’re experiencing symptoms such as chest pain, numbness or tingling, you should go to the emergency room and see a doctor as soon as possible.

Maintaining Heart Health During the Holidays

Maintaining healthy habits during the holiday season can be challenging, but it’s also the best thing for your heart. If you want to stay heart healthy during this time of year, there are several things you can do, including avoiding excessive physical exertion or emotional stress that could trigger a cardiac event, making better food choices and eating calorie and salt-rich foods only in moderation, and keeping up with your regular exercise program as much as possible.

You also should get a flu shot to protect yourself against illnesses that can put additional stress on your heart, and see a doctor if you experience symptoms that could indicate cardiac issues. Tis’ the season to be jolly and enjoy time with friends and family, but in the midst of all this merriment, you should still pay attention to your cardiac health.