AHA: Holidays are peak season for heart attack

Holiday stereotypes are around for a reason—people look forward to a time of year dedicated to gift exchanges, hot cocoa and family vacations. But for the American Heart Association (AHA), the holidays have an additional label: peak heart attack season.

Lapses in diets, increased alcohol consumption and strained finances are a handful of reasons the AHA states this time of year can be dangerous for cardiac patients. A 2004 study titled, “The Holidays as Risk Factor for Death,” stated cardiac mortalities are higher around Christmas and New Year’s than any other time of year. The paper, published in Circulation, also cites stressful family interactions, respiratory complications from burning wood, travel and entertaining as additional reasons the winter months pose a health threat.

“We tend to exercise less and eat more during the holidays,” cardiologist John Osborne, MD, PhD, said in an AHA release. “It’s a very stressful time. There’s a lot of emotion attached to the holidays and that can be another factor to why we have more cardiovascular events.”

Osborne said the holidays can complicate established, healthy routines like taking medications routinely or getting outside for a quick walk.

“I can’t tell you how often I get calls from patients who have traveled somewhere and forgot their medications,” he said.

Those patients might think they’ll be okay without their meds for a week, he said, but missing doses can have a significant, adverse effect on blood pressure.

Osborne recommended using the holidays as a time to talk about health with the whole family—both healthy practices and health history. Knowing your genetic background, especially when it comes to myocardial infarction, hypertension and high cholesterol, can be key to understanding your own health, he said.

He also mentioned apps can be a helpful way to keep up with good, heart-healthy behaviors through tracking achievements and providing motivation.

“I have a very brief period with patients,” he said. “Tools like apps can encourage good health behaviors, being that gentle in-your-face technology.”