Tips to Prevent Holiday Heart Attacks

Happy Holidays & Happy New Year!

The Christmas Coronary

The AARP reports on a new analysis from Sweden published in the BMJ British Medical Journal that shows a dramatic rise in coronary heart attacks on Christmas Eve. In fact, there was a 37% higher risk to have a heart attack on Christmas Eve, especially around 10:00 pm, which is a few hours after eating the holiday meal. Other studies have also shown a steep rise in heart attacks over Christmas and so they have come to be called Christmas Coronaries.

The SWEDHEART Observational Study 1998-2013

There were 283,014 heart attacks in Sweden over a 16-year period from 1998-2013 that were analyzed by the researchers in the SWEDHEART Observational study. Besides the Christmas Eve spike, the researchers also discovered high risks for heart attacks on Christmas Day, a 20% increased risk on New Year’s Day and increased risks for Midsummer, which is a national Swedish holiday and the second most important holiday after Christmas.  Midsummer is often celebrated by drinking to excess as is New Year’s Eve. Swedes usually celebrate Christmas Eve with immediate family and alcoholic drinks may be part of the festivities. Seniors over the age of 75 and those with chronic health conditions such as diabetes or heart disease were at the highest risk for heart attacks.

Holidays are Hard for Seniors

While cold freezing weather may be a contributing factor for raising blood pressure and causing more heart attacks in the winter, especially when shoveling snow, this cannot be the sole reason for the spike in heart attacks specifically on Christmas Eve. Also, the researchers examined control periods two weeks before and two weeks after Christmas and there was only this spike on Christmas Eve. Researchers theorize that holidays are stressful for seniors and cause a rise in levels of hormones like norepinephrine and adrenaline which can raise both blood pressure and the heart rate such as:

  • Financial stress if seniors find they do not have enough money like they once had to buy Christmas presents for all the family members.
  • Emotional stress hits seniors very hard at Christmas when they may feel more lonely and isolated.
  • Grief and depression can hit people especially hard throughout the holidays, as the holidays stir up memories of departed loved ones.

People Ignore Warnings of Heart Attacks on Holidays

The researchers also believe that people who are having some warning signs of a possible heart attack tend to ignore them because they do not want to miss out on the festivities, disrupt them or they may have gone out-of-town. They tell themselves that they will deal with whatever it is after Christmas, and unfortunately this may be too late.

Steps to Take to Prevent the Holiday Heart Syndrome

Do not stuff yourself and overeat a heavy meal and resist drinking alcoholic drinks. Research shows you have a fourfold chance of having a heart attack after a heavy meal. Binge drinking has also been linked to what is called the Holiday Heart Syndrome. Drinking too much alcohol increases the risk for both heart attacks and strokes. In fact, Swedish government-owned shops reported an increased sale of alcoholic drinks on Christmas and Midsummer. Of course New Year’s Eve is also associated with a high rate of drinking alcohol.

Do not over exert yourself. Let someone else volunteer to shovel the snow. While dancing is good for you, do not dance to the point of exhaustion. Stop and rest before your heart is pounding away and you are out of breath.

Do not ignore warning signs like arm, back or neck pain. Heart burn, pinching in the chest and indigestion can also be warning signs.

Plan to spend the holidays with people and family members you feel most comfortable with. If you find yourself getting aggravated with the people you are with, simply cut the time short and head home sooner.

Cardiac Rehabilitation at the Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation, Galloway Township, New Jersey

If you or your loved one are in need of rehabilitation after a heart attack or surgery, the Royal Suites Healthcare and Rehabilitation in scenic Galloway Township, New Jersey offers expert cardiac rehabilitation. Royal Suites is a 5-star facility in a truly beautiful setting surrounded by eight acres of woods and landscaped gardens and is close to hospitals and medical centers such as:

Shore Medical Center
100 Medical Center Way
Somers Point, NJ 08244

Atlanticare Regional Medical Center
65 W Jimmie Leeds Rd
Pomona, NJ 08240

Bacharach Institute for Rehabilitation
61 West Jimmie Leeds Road
Pomona, NJ 08240


Enjoy the holidays, but be a little bit careful how you celebrate it. If you get warning signs of a heart attack phone 911 right away.

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