The joy of the winter holiday season is often marred for many as research shows that more people die from heart attacks during the last week of December than at any other time of the year.

The American Heart Association, the world’s leading voluntary organization focused on heart and brain health for all, says being aware of this annual phenomenon and taking a few important, heart-healthy steps may save lives.

Heart Attack Warning signs

“The holidays are a busy, often stressful, time for many of us. Routines are disrupted; we may tend to eat and drink more and exercise and relax less. We’re getting too little sleep and experiencing too much stress. We also may not be listening to our bodies or paying attention to warning signs, thinking a trip to the doctor can wait until after the new year,” said American Heart Association Chief Clinical Science Officer Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA.

“While we don’t know exactly why there are more deadly heart attacks during this time of year, it’s important to be aware that all of these factors can be snowballing contributors to increasing the risk for a deadly cardiac event.”

Scientific research finds an uptick in cardiac events during the winter holiday season. A study published in Circulation, the flagship journal of the American Heart Association, reported that more cardiac deaths occur on Dec. 25 than on any other day of the year; the second largest number of cardiac deaths occurs on Dec. 26, and the third largest number occurs on Jan. 1.

Winter weather has been noted as a trigger for increased heart attack risk due to restricted blood flow though constricted vessels causes by cold temperatures.

However, another study published in Circulation found that even in the mild climate of Los Angeles County, about a third more heart attack deaths occur in December and January than in June through September.

These findings were supported by a study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association by researchers in New Zealand, where the December holidays fall during that area’s summer season. 

“Research also shows that the biggest increases in these holiday heart attack deaths are among people who are not in a hospital. This highlights the importance of recognizing symptoms and seeking immediate medical care. Don’t ignore heart attack warning signs because you don’t want to spoil the holidays, the consequences could be much worse,” Elkind said. “It also calls attention to the need for increased awareness of knowing how to perform hands-only CPR.

“You could be out holiday shopping, enjoying an office party or spending time at a family gathering and witness someone having a heart attack and going into cardiac arrest. Starting CPR immediately and calling 9-1-1 could be the difference in life or death in those situations. Hands-only CPR is something nearly everyone can learn and do.”

The Life section is supported by Brethren Care Village in Ashland.

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