HOLIDAY HEART SYNDROME
The holidays are supposed to be a time of fun and relaxation. For some people, however, the holiday season is stressful. For those with preexisting heart problems the season can induce something unexpected – heart attacks. The EMTs and Paramedics at Rural Metro Fire want to make you aware and prepared for this, largely unknown, risk at this time of year. Studies show1 that the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day has the highest numbers of cardiac events*, statistically. This trend peaks at 10PM on Christmas Eve and has another spike on New Year’s Eve. Researchers are not entirely sure why this period has such a proliferation of cardiac events, but there are some theories that may explain this phenomenon.
Cold weather, which is common around the holiday season, can exacerbate heart issues. The vessels in your extremities contract in the cold, causing strain on a weakened heart. If you have heart health issues, be sure to avoid extreme cold temperatures and activities like shoveling snow – which is one of the most strenuous activities on the heart and accounts for a significant number of cardiac events in winter. Ask for help with activities outdoors, especially in cold weather, that require a lot of exertion when you have preexisting heart health concerns.
Even in warm climates, the risk for a cardiac event during the holiday season doesn’t diminish significantly. Researchers also think that changed habits during the holiday season contribute to the increase in cardiac events. People tend to overeat and increase alcohol consumption during the holidays in addition to getting less sleep. All these behavioral changes can contribute to increased stress on the heart. Mental stresses of preparing for the “perfect” holiday compound these physical stresses and can be the proverbial straw that breaks the camel’s back.
So, while the holidays will come and there will be the potential for stresses that can result in cardiac events, there are things you can do to help minimize your risk during the holiday season and all year long. Firstly, see your doctor and follow any protocols they set forth to manage chronic diseases. Limit your food and alcohol exceptions during the holiday season. Try mindfulness practices to reduce mental stress – like deep relaxing breathing – to mitigate its effects on your heart. Do less, and especially less outdoors, in extreme weather to reduce physical and emotional stressors.
Lastly, researchers believe that delayed treatment of cardiac events during the holidays contributes to the peaks seen and poorer outcomes. Rural Metro Fire’s trained EMTs and Paramedics are on call and ready to assist if you begin to feel unwell over the holidays and experience symptoms of a heart attack such as:
- Chest pain (especially crushing chest pain)
- Arm, neck or jaw pain (especially in women or those with diabetes)
- Sweating profusely or cold sweats
- Shortness of breath
- Loss of consciousness
We urge you NOT to delay treatment as rapid intervention in heart attack patients results in better outcomes. Be aware of your risks and take control of your health for a safer and more enjoyable holiday season. You can take charge by learning CPR – Rural Metro Fire offers free Hands Only CPR classes in conjunction with our parent company, Global Medical Response. You can manage your health by eating better and exercising as prescribed by your doctor and learning ways to decompress and reduce stress in your daily life, reducing your heart attack risk all year long!
1 The “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon | Circulation (ahajournals.org)