Not to dampen any holiday
spirits, but studies show heart troubles rise this time of year.
It's not just a Western
phenomenon. Recent research in China found the same thing. The increase
includes fatal and non-fatal heart attacks and a less serious condition dubbed
"holiday heart syndrome" — an irregular heartbeat caused by too much
Reasons for the seasonal
increase are uncertain. Theories include over-indulgence and
"The other day we had
three heart attacks come in within four hours," said Dr Charles Davidson,
chief of North-western Memorial Hospital's cardiac catheterisation services.
The hospital's usual rate is two or three a week.
American Heart Association
spokesman Dr Richard Stein, a cardiologist at New York University's medical centre,
said most studies investigating holiday heart trends have found a statistical
increase in heart attacks and other problems — not a giant surge but worth
noting just the same.
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Stein recommends the usual
preventive advice, including flu shots, avoiding excessive eating and drinking,
and getting enough exercise throughout the season
David Phillips, a sociologist at the University of California's San Diego campus, has long studied when people die.
His research, based on
millions of US death certificates, shows that cardiac deaths including fatal
heart attacks increase almost 5% on Christmas Day, the day after and on New
Year's Day. Deaths from other causes also increase at holiday time, but not as
much, he has found.
'There are 2000 extra deaths each year'
Phillips estimates that
there are 2000 extra deaths each year, mostly from heart-related problems,
linked with Christmas and New Year's. He says hospitals' holiday staffing is a
factor, with fewer doctors and nurses working and the most senior employees
often on vacation.
Also, he said, in the rush
leading up to the holidays, people tend to ignore symptoms — which can be
Advice and solutions
His advice? Head to the
emergency room with life-threatening symptoms such as chest pain, unexplained
falls, numbness or tingling. But for non-emergencies and elective surgeries,
you might want to consider holding off until hospital staffing is back to
Then there's "holiday
heart syndrome," a type of irregular heartbeat called atrial fibrillation
brought on by too much alcohol.
It involves irregular
contractions in the heart's upper two chambers that patients often feel as
palpitations, a funny fluttery sensation in the chest, or chest pain.
"People who come in
with this, they're shocked that it happened," said Dr Deepak Bhatt, a
heart specialist at Brigham and Women's Hospital and editor-in-chief of the
Harvard Heart Letter. Many aren't chronic drinkers and "may not realize
that excess drinking at the annual Christmas party has its own risks," he
The condition typically
happens in otherwise healthy adults, and resolves within 24 hours.
For more Information on heart attacks click here.