Heart Attacks and the Holidays

Avoiding the "Merry Christmas coronary"

The holidays are a wonderful time of year, but they can also be stressful. No matter how much we want to create the “perfect” Christmas, that goal is unrealistic and can actually make us sick!

The number of people who suffer from heart attacks increases in December and January, with a spike on Christmas and New Year’s Day. If we recognize the factors that can lead to this, we can help avoid them.

1. Don’t stress too much about the “perfect gift.” Remember,
it’s the thought that counts.

2. Take your medications and stick to your diet and exercise
routine. Just because it’s the holiday season, that doesn’t
mean you can take a holiday from good health.

3. Don’t ignore unusual symptoms. If you have chest pain,
don’t wait to go to the doctor until after Christmas dinner!

4. Remember what we are celebrating — peace and goodwill toward others. If you keep that in mind, all the other stuff doesn’t really
matter much, does it?

Some advice for the next few weeks:

  • Pile on the layers. Cold weather is hard on the heart. Try to avoid exposure to frigid temperatures by dressing warmly.
  • Take a load off. Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much physical exertion (especially snow shoveling), anger and emotional stress.
  • Make good choices. Avoid excess salt and alcohol. Too much drinking — for example, binge drinking — can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that increases the risk for stroke, heart attack and heart failure.
  • Get a shot. Consider getting a flu vaccination. Infection and fever put extra stress on the heart.
  • Breathe. Go indoors during air pollution alerts but try to avoid breathing smoke from wood-burning fireplaces. If you’re visiting another home during the holidays, sit as far away as you can from a burning fireplace. Ultra-fine particles in the air can be bad for the heart.
  • Get help. If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911 for emergency help. Give yourself and your family a gift this season — Don’t postpone treatment because you don’t want to spoil the holiday merrymaking.

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