Chance for heart attack increases during holidays, here’s why

Dec 12, 2022, 6:00 PM | Updated: Dec 13, 2022, 8:05 am
The chance that somebody may have a heart attack or stroke, especially those who are at risk, is gr...
Ethnie Wright tries to shovel snow as one of her puppies, Leo, jumps in front of the shovel in Sandy on Friday, Dec. 2, 2022. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)
(Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)

SALT LAKE CITY — There are a few days around the holidays when people are more prone to have a heart attack. They are Christmas Day, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day. And the American Heart Association says cardiovascular conditions increase in general after Thanksgiving and that their peak time is around the New Year.

“More than any other time of the year,” said Richard Ferguson, Chief Medical Officer of Health Choice Utah, and the Founder of Black Physicians of Utah.

He cites overindulging in food and alcohol is partly to blame for the increase in heart attacks and strokes. And inattention is another possible factor.

“Because of stress, dealing with family, finances, ‘oh I have to get this present,’ ‘oh I have to finish this work deadline,’ we are sometimes more dismissive of complaints that our body may be telling us,” Ferguson said.

Those in winter climates during holidays also at higher risk of heart attack

For some, winter and winter activities are welcome reprieves from the heat of summer. But being outside in winter has the heart working harder to keep us warm. It has to pump harder because blood vessels are restricted by the cold. This can cause your heart rate to increase, as well as your blood pressure.

“In this winter time frame, if you have a family member, or even yourself, if you notice you have chest discomfort, lightheadedness, sudden nausea, discomfort or pain in your arm or over your shoulder, and then associated shortness of breath, you need to seek emergency care,” Ferguson told KSL NewsRadio.

Other signs, or ‘is that indigestion?’

If there are a lot of food celebrations in your near future it’s wise to know the difference between indigestion and a possible sign of heart trouble. “If it seems like indigestion that is sudden, it’s strikingly more painful,” Ferguson said, that could be a sign to seek help.

For women, a sign that their heart is struggling may come in the form of mid-upper back pain. “It won’t involve your chest at all. So if you’re sitting there and you’re a woman, often over 40, and you’re starting to have mid back pain and you didn’t shovel the driveway … that’s something that I would not ignore.”

It doesn’t happen all at once

A reminder about heart health around the holidays can’t ward off a heart attack or stroke. In other words, a warning about overindulging in food on Monday won’t necessarily stop a heart attack that happens on Tuesday.  Ferguson said the real gist of heart health is knowing where your baseline is.

“Hypertension [is] in over half the adult population, which means many are undiagnosed,” he said. “So it’s really about our baseline unhealthy behavior preceding the holidays.”

But there are actions we take or don’t take during the holidays that can spur our cardiovascular system to heart attack or stroke. Like experiencing stress about the holidays, or missing a doctor’s appointment because of other plans, or even skipping the gym because something else has come up. These can all negatively impact our health, particularly around the holiday season.

Suggestions for staying healthy, avoiding heart attacks during holidays

The keys to staying healthy around the holidays are knowing your symptoms, celebrating in moderation, planning for self-care, and reducing stress. Another big one for Dr. Ferguson is to keep exercising.

“The American Heart Association recommends 150 minutes a week. We cut back way too much on that during the holidays.”

Related reading: Heart failure deaths on the rise in younger US adults, researchers say

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Chance for heart attack increases during holidays, here’s why