More people die of heart attacks during the holidays than any other time of year. Learn why it happens and how to prevent it.
Possible reasons for holiday heart attacks
- Snow. The amount of snow – plus the physical stress of shoveling it – is linked to more heart attack deaths than the temperature. Damp weather causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.
- Alcohol. Drinking alcoholic beverages before going out in the cold can give you a false feeling of warmth. But alcohol, cold weather, and outdoor activity don’t mix. These conditions increase your chances for hypothermia. Too much alcohol can also cause abnormal heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation and sudden death.
- Cold temperatures. People with coronary artery disease can suffer chest pain when exposed to the bitter cold. Hypothermia (a body temperature that is below normal) can cause heart failure and death. Wind can be especially dangerous, as it can remove the layer of heated air that surrounds the body.
- The holiday season. Holiday stress may cause chest pain and trigger heart attacks. So can excessive eating and drinking. People may be more likely to ignore symptoms during the busy holidays as well.
- Colds, flu, and other infections. One study showed that a person’s heart attack risk triples in the 10 days following these types of illnesses.
How to prevent a holiday heart attack
- Get a flu shot. Studies show that if you’ve had a heart attack in the past, a flu shot can reduce your risk for a second heart attack by 67 percent.
- Be careful outdoors. Check with your doctor before you shovel snow, and don’t overdo it when you’re outdoors. Your body has to work extra hard just to stay warm.
- Follow heart-healthy habits. Exercise according to your doctor’s advice, eat right and don’t smoke. It’s OK to enjoy your holiday meal, but try not to overindulge.
- Know the warning signs of a heart attack.
Don’t ignore any of the following warning signs of a heart attack. Call 9-1-1 right away. Waiting can be deadly.
Discomfort, pressure, or pain in the chest is the most common symptom of a heart attack. But not everyone will have chest pain during a heart attack. Symptoms can also include discomfort in other areas, such as the neck, back, jaw, arms, stomach, or shoulders. Other symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath (with or without chest pain)
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme fatigue
- Dizziness, weakness, or passing out
Remember. If you have any possible heart attack symptoms, or think you might be having a heart attack call 9-1-1 at once. There are treatments that can save your life, but they need to be used as soon as possible after the symptoms begin.