by Kimberly Allen, RN
The holidays are upon us and while ’tis the season for giving and good cheer, it is also is season for heart attacks. Studies have shown that more people suffer heart attacks in December than any other month. In fact, Christmas day is not only a day of celebration, opening gifts and spending time with family and friends, there are also more heart attacks on Christmas day than any other day in the year. The day after Christmas is second, and New Years day is third. Not only do more heart attacks occur during the holidays, there are more deaths from heart attacks during the holidays than at any other time as well.
There have been several studies conducted to determine why there are more heart attacks on Christmas and they have found there are a variety of factors during the holidays that seem to converge upon each other, creating the perfect setting needed for a heart attack. The three factors that seem to have the most significant impact on your heart during the holidays are increased emotional stress and depression, over indulging in unhealthy foods and failure to admit you need medical attention. There are numerous things that can increase your stress and/or create depression over the holidays such as family gatherings and travel. People that have lost loved ones often have a difficult time during the holiday season. Then there are the parties, at home, at work, your friends , neighbors etc lots of parties and with lots of parties comes lots of food. The holidays have traditionally been a time when people break out all those “special” or “grandmas” recipes for luscious, decadant treats that are only made on special occasions. You may even feel obligated to eat for fear of offending your host, but many of those special holiday recipes are loaded with empty carbohydrates, saturated fats and sugar.
While both stress and overindulgence play significant roles in the rise in heart attacks during the holidays, the factor that leads to more deaths due to heart attack is denial and failure to seek medical attention. People that develop chest pain, difficulty breathing, heart burn or other symptoms of a heart attack tend to ignore them and/or attribute them to something else rather than contact the Dr or go to the local emergency room for treatment. Then when the symptoms become so severe they can not be ignored by you or the people around you and you are finally forced to admit something is wrong and seek medical attention, you’re already too late. It’s this time delay that can make the difference between surviving or dying.
Unless you want to be a Grinch or Scrooge, it is impossible to skip the holiday season entirely to save yourself from the unwanted health effects of the season, but there are some things you can do to prevent a heart attack this holiday season:
1. Stress is part of the holidays – one way or another, it shows up every year so it’s important to learn to cope with it. Learning relaxation techniques, meditation and, of course, exercise can all help reduce holiday stress.
2. Moderation, moderation, moderation! It’s alright to try some of those holiday treats but in moderation. Limit your alcohol consumption, I realize that alcohol and food are the two main components of holiday parties but alcohol, especially binge drinking, can lead to atrial fibrilation and increases your risk of heart attack, heart failure and stroke.
3. Eat right at the holiday buffet. Load up on the turkey, cranberry, veggies while staying away from the breads, soda pop and sugar cookies. Rule of thumb is eat whole foods and stay away from ones made with refined sugar or flour.
4. Another thing many people don’t think about during the holidays is getting their flu shot. Viral infections are very common during the winter and infection and fever place increased stress on your heart.
5. And the most important gift you can give to yourself and your loved ones is to seek medical attention immediately if you feel chest pain or other symptoms that indicate you may have a heart attack.
Following these simple rules will allow you to still take part in the holiday cheer without becoming a holiday statistic.
Kimberly Allen is a registered nurse with an AND in nursing. She has worked in ACF, LCF and psychiatric facilities, although she spent most of her career as a home health expert. She is now a regular contributor to HealthAndFitnessTalk.com, dispensing advice and knowledge about medical issues and questions. You can reach her with any comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.