Plan Now To Avoid Holiday Heart Attacks (Part one of a two-part series.)
By David Martin, CEO, VeinInnovations
At last it’s the beginning of football season! Time for tailgating, barbecue and beer, soon to be followed by Halloween candy, and stuffing ourselves at Thanksgiving as the Christmas rush sets in. Before we know it, we’re in that five-week food and stress fest also known as the “Holiday Heart Attack Season.”
Seriously. The Holiday Heart Attack Season is a real phenomenon.
Research confirms this most disconcerting pattern: the holiday season and its glad tidings also bring an increase in deadly heart attacks. Christmas Day, December 26th, and New Year’s Day, studies say, are the first, second, and third most likely days, respectively, for such an event.
“We’re learning that there are certain triggers for cardiovascular events. If we can get a true handle on the seasonal variation, we could knock down death from coronary disease,” says Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, a researcher at Good Samaritan Hospital, and a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
Indeed. A review of 53 million U.S. death certificates from 1973 to 2001, performed in 2004 by researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and Tufts University School of Medicine, revealed a 5% increase in deaths during the holiday season – nationwide.
“We certainly know that there are certain risk factors for coronary artery disease. There’s obviously smoking, hypertension, dyslipidemia [high cholesterol], diabetes, lack of exercise, and age,” according to Dr. Kloner.
The Tufts study showed a link to colder weather, which, when you look at the origins of coronary artery disease, makes sense. The disease stems from atherosclerosis, a condition in which fatty plaques narrow the arteries to the heart. If a plaque breaks free, and a blood clot forms, a heart attack is likely to follow.
Cold Weather is Hard on the Heart
When the temperature drops, blood vessels constrict, raising blood pressure, and making blood clot more easily. As frigid temperatures increase strain on the heart, starting a running program, raking leaves, or any other physical exertion adds to the strain and may trigger a heart attack.
Many an emergency room patient in snowy climes is rushed to the hospital after an hour or two of shoveling snow.
What are other reasons for the increase in coronary artery disease deaths in December and January, over the numbers for June through September?
Looking back to the studies, and comments from Kloner, here are the likely reasons:
- People are more likely to delay getting treatment because they don’t want to disrupt Christmas and New Year’s festivities by attracting attention to themselves.
- People want to wait until they get home to seek treatment.
- Out-of-town relatives wait to seek competent care.
- Hospitals may be short-staffed on major holidays, meaning treatment is delayed, or the specialists you need are not immediately available.
Overindulgence, Slippage, and Stress
Three other factors are at play here as well: the temptation to shop, socialize, or catch another football game instead of sticking with an exercise routine; the ease of grabbing a handful of those tasty “pigs-in-a-blanket” along with another slice or two of pizza, along with another couple of beers, lead to an increase in salt consumption, as well as the addition of a few more pounds. The additional salt, alcohol, and weight are a horrible combination, especially when you factor in the third component of holiday revelry: familial stress.
I’ll talk more about the whys of holiday stress – how to avoid it and how to survive it – in next week’s Live Healthy, Atlanta. In the meantime, one step you can take now to help avoid the Holiday Heart Attack is to start walking regularly, and register to walk with me at the Atlanta Heart Walk September 26, 2015. It’s free, fun, and a great way to get you, and your family, in line for healthier, happier holidays.