The Merry Christmas Coronary - In a Heartbeat

The Merry Christmas Coronary

The holidays are upon us!  The celebrations, traditions and delicious treats bring joy and merriment to so many each year.  However, while excitement abounds, there is also a dangerous threat lurking in the shadows – The Merry Christmas Coronary.

During the Christmas and New Years holiday season, cardiac deaths typically increase by 4-5%, with the highest rate of death occurring on 12/25, 12/26 and 1/1.  Cold weather has long been suspected as a cause of this holiday phenomenon.  However, we now know that the spike in heart related deaths during the holidays is present even in warm climates, which begs the question, “What is the cause and what preventative measures can be taken to safely navigate the holidays?”

Possible causes

  • Delay – With the busyness of the season, people may be inclined to put off healthcare around holidays.  They may be hesitant to burden those around them or change holiday plans.  
  • Travel – When traveling far from home, it may be more challenging to locate competent medical care and/or care providers may not have an intimate knowledge of the patient’s history.
  • Understaffed – Hospitals and clinics may find themselves understaffed as employees travel or may be overstressed by an influx of patients.
  • Stress – Despite the merry message of poplar Christmas carols, stress is an undeniable element to the holiday season.  Stress increases blood pressure and risk for heart disease.
  • Overindulgence – Rich foods and increased consumption of alcohol can add stress to the heart.  

Preventative Measures

  • Self care – Take time away from the holiday hustle and bustle when feeling stressed.  Practice relaxation techniques and monitor loved ones’ stress levels.
  • Limit alcohol – Binge drinking can lead to atrial fibrillation, which is a common cause of cardiac arrest and heart attack.  Practice responsible drinking.
  • Get help – If you are feeling ill or have a history of heart disease or cardiac risk factors, don’t delay treatment.  
  • Get flu shot – The flu can put stress on the heart by influencing blood pressure, heart rate and heart function.  While the vaccine may not be a failsafe, it is especially important for those at risk for complications from the flu, individuals in the medical field and those traveling over the holidays.
  • Moderate salt intake – Many of us will indulge in foods to which our bodies are not accustomed.  Salt directly impacts blood pressure, which in turn increases the strain on your heart.  Choose low sodium options and avoid processed foods.
  • Take medication as prescribed – Be aware that changes to routine can cause individuals to forget medication or take it irregularly.  Fill prescriptions before traveling and set an alarm if you have difficulty remembering to take prescribed medication.

Always consult a doctor if you have questions or concerns about this or other health topics.  Better safe than sorry!

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