Holiday Time: Not So Good for the Heart

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With the holiday season coming up, you may be rejoicing about much-needed time off from school or work. For many of us, the winter holidays mean great food and an opportunity to see friends and family. For many researchers, however, the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day represents a spike in cardiac deaths, with its peak around Christmas Eve and Christmas Day. Current theories about why this happens point to the changes in diet and emotional health that may occur during this time of year, which may put people at greater risk for having a heart attack.

A heart attack is commonly the result of an arterial blockage that prevents enough blood flow from getting to the heart. This leads to heart tissue death (necrosis), which makes the heart unable to pump blood effectively to the rest of the body.

A major risk factor for heart attack is high blood pressure. Consuming too much salt and fat, common in holiday meals, can cause an increase in water and cholesterol accumulation in the body, which increases blood pressure. Therefore, it is important to monitor not only how much we are eating, but what we are eating as well.

Stress during the holiday season can also have a negative effect on the cardiovascular system. For some people, the pressure of increased spending and potentially uncomfortable interactions with family may result in an increase in heart rate and blood pressure. This puts more stress on the heart.

With the holidays approaching, learn how to recognize the signs of a heart attack. Some common symptoms include chest, arm, jaw or back pain, sweating and shortness of breath. Call 911 immediately if you or a friend or family member seem like they could be having a heart attack.

Prioritize your health at this busy time of year by paying attention to what you eat and scheduling any health care appointments you may need without delay. Practice coping mechanisms such as meditation, deep breathing and getting exercise. Of course, don’t forget to enjoy yourself and revel in the festivities of the holiday season.

Lauren Walkon graduated from Michigan State University with a degree in physiology. She is pursuing a career as a physician.

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