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Holiday Heart Attacks

Thursday December 26, 2019

“What is that flashing red light coming up the street? Is it Rudolph? No, it’s an ambulance!”

All too many times between Thanksgiving and New Year’s we are forced to have this conversation with friends or family. Christmas Day results in more heart-related deaths than any other day of the year. The day after Christmas, December 26th, is the day the second largest numbers of heart-related deaths are reported. So,it may be no surprise to hear that January 1st takes third place for heart-related deaths. Unfortunately our area is not an exception to the rule. There are, however, many steps you can take during the holidays to be sure you do not become a statistic.

Part of the problem might be the cold weather, which can cause blood vessels to constrict, thereby raising blood pressure. Frigid temperatures can also increase stress on the heart. Throw in some snow shoveling or other forms of physical exertion and you could have the recipe for a heart attack. While you may be tempted to take down the Christmas lights the day after (remember how much fun it was to put them up?), make sure the weather is moderate enough to do so without freezing yourself in the process.

Some feel that stress is the main reason. Stress can cause many illnesses, and increase the possibility of death by heart attack in those who are already dealing with heart issues. During busy times, such as the Christmas holiday, many forget to get the rest needed or to take medications on schedule. The holiday season can also be a source of stress with family you do or do not want to interact with. This can be compounded by financial pressures with gifts and travel expenses. Spread out the holiday cheer so that you can take it in stages. Most importantly, take time out to rest and relax a bit; after all, spending time with weird Uncle Marvin may still be preferable to spending it in the Emergency Room.

In addition, the Spirits of Christmas aren’t only part of a Charles Dickens’ tale. Holiday celebrants drink alcohol they possibly should not have with their medication, or more than they normally would because of the social pressures of the season. Set yourself some limits and stick to them. While these behaviors would not be an issue for some, there are many who are going beyond what their body can handle. Enjoy the season's pleasures, but in moderation. Don’t be too preoccupied with celebrating that you forget to take stock of yourself on a regular basis. Signs of a heart attack can include:

It has been reported that some holiday heart attacks would not result in death if people sought medical attention quickly. However, many feel they are experiencing indigestion or think they just ate too much. Taking a quick nap seems like the choice some will make rather than seeking help. That nap can sometimes be the last one. When in doubt –find out: If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, don't delay in calling 911 for emergency help. Don't postpone investigation of unusual symptoms because you don't want to spoil the holiday celebrations.

The Branch-Hillsdale-St. Joseph Community Health Agency offers the following tips: