Heart Attacks Increase over the Holiday Season

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Travel increases over the holidays–and so do heart attacks.

If you were to guess the top three days that people experience the most heart attacks, what would be your picks?

More cardiac deaths occur on December 25 than any other day of the year. December 26 has the second most cardiac deaths and January 1 was third for this type of death. Annually, heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

But why the increase over the holidays?

“We see every year during the winter months, in the cold months, that there’s about a 10% or more increase in the rate of fatal cardiovascular events, things like heart attacks and cardiac arrest when the heart stops beating altogether,” Dr. Mich Elkind, Chief Clinical Science Officer for the American Heart Association told FOX Weather. “But on top of that, right at Christmas and New Year’s, there’s a further, about 5%, increase in risk of those events.”

Several explanations have been proposed: 1) increased respiratory infections such as cold and flu; 2) overindulgence of salt, fatty foods and alcohol; 3) travel, with people in an unfamiliar environment; and 4) elderly or vulnerable at home while other family members are traveling, meaning they are less likely to have help; and 5) people less likely to seek medical attention this time of year.

Stress from travel, family gatherings, less sleep and busy schedules have also been blamed from contributing to poor health this time of year, which could trigger a heart attack.

“While we don’t know exactly why there are more deadly heart attacks during this time of year, it’s important to be aware that all of these factors can be snowballing contributors to increasing the risk for a deadly cardiac event,” Elkind said. “Don’t ignore heart attack warning signs because you don’t want to spoil the holidays, the consequences could be much worse.”

Warning signs that should not be ignored include chest pain, where it feels as if an elephant were sitting on your chest. Sometimes the pain can occur in the left arm, neck or jaw. Occasionally, people will experience shortness of breath.

In women, warning signs might include nausea, lightheadedness, back pain and fatigue.

Doctors say not to dismiss symptoms, even if someone says its just heartburn. Call 911 and get them to an emergency room.

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