By Karen Stokes
The holidays should be a time of fun, food and family but it can also be a time of isolation, stress, anxiety, overspending and overeating which can negatively affect your health.
Unfortunately, the holiday season can bring about an increase in heart attack deaths. In fact, research shows that more people die from heart attacks during the last week of December than at any other time of the year.
Mitchell S.V. Elkind, M.D., M.S., FAHA Chief Clinical Science Officer of the American Heart Association said, “Stress comes along with the holiday season whether it’s shopping or family gatherings and also people tend to let their guard down a little in terms of their own health.”
Elkind says we all eat more, we eat unhealthy foods whether it be sweets or salty foods that can trigger events.
“With the colder weather people get outside less to exercise. People get less sleep because they’re going to parties while still working, burning the candle at both ends. One of the most important factors is that people are less likely to seek medical attention during the holidays, increasing the rate of heart attacks,” said Elkind.
It’s important that people are aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and what to do in case they witness someone with these symptoms.
“The symptoms may be classic like chest pain, people describe the feeling like someone is sitting on their chest,” said Elkind. “Some people don’t have pressure on their chest, instead they may have pain in the arm or in the neck or in the jaw. Sometimes people have shortness of breath, difficulty breathing. They may also have subtle symptoms like nausea, break out in a cold sweat or have dizziness or lightheadedness.”
The less severe symptoms tend to occur more often in women than men.
“I don’t know why there’s a difference,” Elkind said. “There is a lot of overlap but there tends to be a little bit more of a shading towards women having those more subtle symptoms and men having the more severe ones. Part of it is that classically, men have heart attacks at a younger age and so they often have a larger blood vessel affected related to a bigger part of the heart. In women, heart attacks occur at an older age at a smaller blood vessel and may not cause a severe chest pain but cause more gastro intestinal like issues. That’s one potential explanation.”
If you believe someone is experiencing a heart attack, minutes matter. Fast action can save lives maybe your own.
Call 911 if you or someone you’re with experiences heart attack warning signs. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment.
“If the heart is not beating at all, you need to start doing CPR,” said Elkind. “We currently recommend hands only CPR. You don’t need to breathe in the mouth but just pressing on the chest at a rhythm of about 60 beats a minute will restore blood flow to the brain. If someone is unconscious, raising their feet up can help raise blood to the brain.”
People may run out of their medication during the holidays and older family members may be alone so check on them and make sure they have their meds.
“During the holiday, maintain healthy habits that you try to keep up the rest of the year like exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and reducing stress,” he added.