The holidays can be exhausting for anyone, but for those at risk for heart disease or stroke, the holidays can be downright scary. The ‘Merry Christmas coronary’ is not a fluke, not an imaginary trend that physicians made up to get their patients in to see them – it’s a researched and proven phenomena that happens every year around this time.
“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,” says Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD, a researcher at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles and a professor at the Keck School of Medicine at the University of Southern California.
“But we’re also learning that there are certain triggers for cardiovascular events,” he adds, “including time of the year and seasons. If we can get a true handle on the seasonal variation, we could knock down death from coronary disease.”
For a time, researchers looked into the possibility that colder weather and freezing temperatures might play a part in the rise in heart attacks during the holidays. Physicians have always been well aware the colder weather is tougher on every aspect of the body, from inflammation to circulation, and so it would make great sense that winter weather could lead to cardiovascular events.
And, yes, it’s true that colder weather constricts the blood vessels and can lead to more blood clots. And, yes, the physical exertion, such as shoveling snow, out in frigid temperatures can absolutely put you at greater risk for heart attack. But this research doesn’t explain why these cardiovascular events happen exactly on Christmas and New Year’s Day.
Holiday Heart Attacks
In a recent heart study, researchers found that “the number of cardiac deaths is higher on Dec. 25 than on any other day of the year, second highest on Dec. 26 and third highest on Jan. 1.”
To complicate the ‘winter weather’ research from above, these holiday heart attacks also happen in warmer climates, including Los Angeles and Palm Springs.
Researchers found that ‘during the holidays, Americans eat too much and drink more alcohol – while ditching their exercise routines.’ The emotional stress mixed with overindulgence could be why cardiovascular events peak around the holidays, but the jury is still out and research continues.
Prevent Holiday Heart Attacks
We know for a fact that heart attacks occur more frequently this time of year. Even though we still don’t know the exact reason why, we can’t stress how important it is to be aware and recognize the risk during the holidays. Just because we don’t know why this happens, doesn’t mean we still can’t prevent it from happening.
So, don’t overdo it this holiday season, especially if you’re at risk for heart attack or stroke. Give yourself a break, stick to your normal routines as much as possible, eat and drink consciously, and take advantage of the holidays with family and friends. Laughter and happiness are two key ingredients to preventing heart attack and stroke, so laugh more and stress less this holiday season – it just might save your life.