Are holiday heart attacks a myth?

Why are some days more prone to heart attacks than others?

Why are some days more prone to heart attacks than others?

When something sad happens on a happy day it leaves a special mark – it’s so much more memorable if a couple splits up on Valentine’s Day, or if someone dies on their birthday.

But are some days more prone to adverse events than others? Are certain dates more dangerous?

A group of researchers looked at the most common cause of sickness and death in the world – heart disease – and set out to see if heart attacks are more likely around specific dates.

They looked at 16 years of the Swedish registry that identifies heart attacks, which included all people admitted to hospitals in Sweden in the time period between 1998 and 2013. There were 283,014 admissions in the study period. The new research, led by Moman Mohammad appears, in the BMJ.

Merry Christmas Coronary?

The riskiest days of the year were Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, and New Year's Day.

The chances of a heart attack increased 37 percent on Christmas Eve and on New Year's Day heart attacks spiked up 20 percent.

Easter, however was an ordinary risk day, and major sports events, such as the FIFA World Cup (which occurred 4 times during the study interval) didn’t carry additional risk.

The perils of a good time

What’s bringing about heart attacks during the year-end festivities?

Sweden is very cold in winter, and cold weather and shoveling snow may trigger a heart attack in susceptible people. But heart attacks are more common around Dec 25 in warmer weather locations too: Another study found that in Los Angeles, known for its sunny, snow free weather, heart attacks incidence shoots up 33 percent around the holidays. And January and February are even colder than the end of December, so although cold weather may play a role in heart attacks, it doesn’t explain the dangers of Christmas.

Could it be that people delay treatment before the holidays, and only show up with a full-blown heart attack on Christmas Eve? Ignoring serious symptoms and putting off seeking medical care is certainly not a good idea, and might explain some of this spike in illness. But if that were the case, there would be a decline in hospital visits in the weeks before and after Christmas and New Year's, which is not what’s observed in this and in other studies.

We’re left with the overindulgence and stress that people may experience around the holidays. Too much food, superfluous alcohol, sleep deprivation, anger, anxiety, worry and pressure can all increase the chance of a heart attack.

Be kind

Indulgence to a certain degree is called for: The holidays are for parties, family reunions, the joy of food and drink.

But keep in mind that in this season of generosity it’s imperative to be kind to yourself, to your own body and mind. Don’t overdo it. Be gentle with yourself. Practice moderation.

Happy holidays, and may your new year be full of vibrant health.

Dr. Ayala