Are heart problems more likely during the holidays?
Ever heard someone say that more heart-related deaths occur on December 25th than any other day of the year? According to Circulation, a publication of the American Heart Association, Christmas Day is the single deadliest day for the heart, followed by December 26th and January 1st. Why are heart problems more likely during the holidays?
Cardiologist Sunday Ayodeji Olatunde, MD, offered answers as to why the holidays can be so risky for the heart, and what you can do to help prevent holiday heart trouble at home.
Why are heart problems more likely around the holidays?
“Holidays can and should be joyful, but they can also involve heightened stress levels,” said Dr. Olatunde. “On top of that, the holidays often include overindulging in unhealthy, fatty or overly sweet foods and an overconsumption of alcohol.”
Traditional holiday meals often involve foods that are overly sweet, high in fat or contain way too much sodium. When you eat these kinds of foods too often it increases your risk for high blood pressure, diabetes or high cholesterol. High blood pressure is often called a ‘silent killer,’ as the damage it can do to your heart may take years or even decades to recognize.
Diabetes has a clear link to heart disease, as well, due to possible thickening of the arteries and long-term damage to the heart muscle itself.
High levels of stress combined with high blood pressure or other ongoing heart problems – which you may not even know about – and then topped off with too much heavy food and too many drinks? It’s a recipe for heart trouble.
How does alcohol affect the heart?
While alcohol use is usually associated with potential damage to the liver, your body is made up of parts that are always working together, and the heart is no exception. Drinking too much alcohol, over time, can increase your blood pressure, weaken the heart muscle or even trigger abnormal heart rhythms. You might develop atrial fibrillation, which is associated with strokes.
What is “holiday heart syndrome”?
“’Holiday heart’ was first described by Dr. Phillip Ettinger in 1978,” said Dr. Olatunde. “In this situation, apparently healthy people develop abnormal heart rhythms or atrial fibrillation following excessive alcohol intake, generally on weekends or around the holidays.”
Dehydration is also often a factor in ‘holiday heart syndrome,’ as alcohol does not help to replenish hydration and many traditional holiday foods are high in sodium. If you choose to partake in some alcoholic drinks, make sure you are consuming water as well.
How can heart problems during the holidays be prevented?
“Preventing holiday-related heart issues involves keeping a close eye on yourself and loved ones and making intentional choices to pursue heart-healthy habits not just during the holidays, but before and after,” said Dr. Olatunde.
Dr. Olatunde recommended the following lifestyle choices to help lower your chance of having heart problems in the future:
- Consume a greater amount of fruits and vegetables
- Limit your alcohol intake
- Focus on staying well hydrated
- Maintain a regular exercise regimen
Starting these healthier habits during other parts of the year and making them a part of your life will help you cut down on overindulgence during holidays.
When should you seek medical care if having heart trouble over a holiday?
“For those worried about the potential for heart problems over the holidays, it may be a good idea to schedule an appointment with your physician to ask for advice and help preparing yourself for the potential impact of stress,” said Dr. Olatunde. “If you find yourself developing symptoms like chest pain, fast heartbeats or shortness of breath, seek urgent medical help by dialing 911.”
Although it may seem hard to interrupt the festivities, never ignore symptoms of a heart attack, stroke or other potential cardiac problem! Always seek care right away.
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