Heart attacks peak in December and January. Here's how to steer clear of ticker trouble during the holidays.
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Most of us wrap up the outgoing year and ring in the new year with a crescendo of exciting—and occasionally stressful—fetes, feasts, and festivities.
Unfortunately, it's also a time when many people are vulnerable to heart attacks. Doctors have long known that December and January are peak months for heart trouble for many reasons—some of them avoidable.
Here are five tips for steering clear of ticker trouble this year.
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Don't drink too much
You hear a lot about how alcohol in moderation is good for your heart. What you may not know is that too much is clearly bad.
Knocking back too many drinks can raise blood pressure in the long term and trigger atrial fibrillationan irregular heatbeat that can cause weaknesss, dizziness, and chest painin the short term.
"There are huge campaigns not to drink and drive during the holidays, but no one talks about the heart dangers," says Samin Sharma, MD, director of interventional cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center, in New York City.
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Use caution in bitter weather
If you have heart disease (or are at high risk), use caution during outdoor activities on cold days.
Cold weather can constrict blood vessels and trigger the release of hormones, which may increase the risk of heart attack. A late-1970s study by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found a 22% rise in heart-related deaths in Massachusetts after big blizzards.
Eating a big mealparticularly a high-fat onecould potentially trigger a heart attack.
A 2000 study of heart-attack survivors hinted that the two-hour period after a heavy meal is risky. Diverting blood from the heart to aid digestion may also spur angina, or heart-related chest pain.
"Overeating should be considered a heart-attack trigger, much in the same way that extreme physical activities and severe anger episodes may cause a myocardial infarction,” says researcher Francisco Lopez-Jimenez, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic, in Rochester, Minn.
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Don't assume it's acid reflux
Holiday sweets, alcohol, and big meals can trigger acid reflux and, hence, chest pain. (Here's how to avoid holiday heartburn.)
So it's no surprise that someone in the early stages of a holiday heart attack might assume they're having heartburn instead. (Find out why it's easy to confuse heartburn and heart attacks.)
When in doubt, get it checked out promptly!
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Get prompt treatment
It’s often quiet on Christmas day in emergency roomsand not because people are less likely to need urgent care. Instead, people wait, hoping the pain will go away. Then visits spike in the days after Christmas.
But the quicker you get help, the less likely heart-muscle cells will die due to lack of blood supply.
"In terms of a heart attack, time is muscle,” says Julius M. Gardin, MD, chairman of the department of internal medicine at Hackensack University Medical Center in Hackensack, N.J.
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