Monday, October 21, 2013

As the Holidays Approach Heart Health is Vitally Important

Fall is upon us. Now more than ever it’s important to remember to take care of ourselves. Researchers have been intrigued by a disturbing pattern—deadly heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season. One study even found distinct spikes around Christmas and New Year’s Day.

What is it about cold weather that causes a rise in heart attacks?

Coronary artery disease stems from atherosclerosis which is a condition where fatty plaques narrow the arteries to the heart. When a plaque ruptures, it can trigger a blood clot that leads to a heart attack.

There was a study published in Circulation in 2004 where researchers at the University of California, San Diego, and Tufts University School of Medicine examined 53 million U.S. death certificates from 1973 to 2001. What they discovered was a 5% increase in heart-related deaths during the holiday season. When they looked at individual years they found varying increases in cardiac deaths for every holiday period they studied except for two.

Doctors have known for a long time that cold weather is hard on the heart. Blood vessels constrict and cause blood pressure to rise. Blood also clots more easily. Cold temperatures increase strain on the heart, and too much physical exertion can cause more of a burden on the heart and trigger a heart attack. Doctors have treated many patients whose heart attacks occurred after shoveling snow.

But cold weather does not account for the holiday spike in heart attacks.

Adding to the mystery, holiday heart attacks shoot up consistently across the country, even in balmy climes such as Los Angeles, where winter weather stays mild and no one wields a snow shovel.

In the 2004 study researchers suggested that people might delay in getting treatment because they don’t want to disrupt Christmas and New Year’s festivities. Another possibility is that holiday travelers might take longer to find competent medical care which adds to the risk. Other factors may play a role, such as emotional stress and overindulgence during the holidays. Holidays are prime time for eating too much and drinking more alcohol while ditching exercise routines. People tend to gain weight during the holiday season and take in more salt which can put additional stress on a weakened heart.

Suffice to say, this combination isn’t healthy for the heart.

How can you prevent a holiday heart attack?

While researchers are still trying to pinpoint the exact reasons for the Christmas coronary, there are some common-sense measures you can take during this special time of year:

Dress in Layers. Try to avoid exposure to very cold temperatures. Dress warmly.

Take a load off. Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much physical exertion (especially snow shoveling), anger, and emotional stress.

Make good choices. Avoid excess salt and alcohol. Too much drinking—for example, binge drinking—can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm in which disorganized electrical signals cause the heart’s two upper chambers to contract irregularly. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.


As Thanksgiving and Christmas approaches Poems With Heart wishes everyone a safe and healthy holiday season!

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This blog is dedicated to Billy Smith, Rose Lemardy, Evelyn Chiles and all those affected by either heart related health problems or Alzheimer’s Disease and the people who loved them.
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