Statistics show that heart attacks are more common during the winter months, in particular over the Christmas holidays. Researchers have studied this for years with many ideas of why this is.
Perhaps it’s related to the overall excitement and hustle and bustle of the season. Perhaps it’s caused by the financial stress seeing that Visa bill after buying that special shinny gift for your loved one which was way over budget. Or perhaps it’s the added stress of coordinating and attending holiday parties with friends and extended family, (who you only see once a year for a reason.) Regardless, it’s important to understand and recognize triggers for stress to limit the risk of heart complications.
When does a Heart Attack occur?
A heart attack occurs when the flow of oxygen-rich blood is unable to get to your heart. Often this is caused by coronary artery disease which is the narrowing of the arteries. CAD is a condition where a waxy substance called plaque builds up inside the coronary arteries. Over time, these areas of plaque can rupture inside of the artery and cause a clot. If this occlusion becomes large enough, it can limit the flow of the blood and prevent adequate oxygen to the heart. This, in turn, can cause a heart attack.
Frigid temperatures during the holidays can be hard on the heart, especially for those with pre-existing heart conditions. The cold can cause blood vessels to constrict which raises blood pressure. Too much physical exertion such as snow shoveling with high blood pressure, can increase strain on the heart causing a heart attack.
How to stay safe from the cold:
- Bundle up, layer with warm clothing while outside.
- Hire someone to shovel the snow for you (often kids in the area would love the extra cash! It’s a win, win situation.)
- If you are shoveling your own snow, take breaks, don’t over exhaust yourself.
Other factors which can increases risk of heart attacks:
- lack of exercise
- Learn to relax; manage the stressors in your life through coping techniques, such as deep breathing or meditation.
- Limit your alcohol consumption as binge drinking is hard on your body.
- Stay active; 30 minutes a day of moderate exercise can significantly decrease your chances of heart attack.
- Stay warm and out of the cold.
Recognizing the symptoms of a heart attack is very important. Researchers believe that it’s possible that the increase in heart attacks this time of year is due to people ignoring the symptoms, as they would rather “wait” until after the holidays to deal with it. Going to the hospital as soon as you have any of the following cardiac symptoms could save your life.
Signs and symptoms that you may be having a heart attack: