Study links heart attacks, holiday

Friday, December 23, 2016

If you have a heart attack at Christmastime, it might not be because of shoveling snow in the cold weather.

With temperatures expected to be in the 40s and 50s over the holiday weekend, we're not likely to have much of a white Christmas.

It's the holiday itself that stresses the heart, not the weather, Australian researchers have concluded.

It was a relatively easy study to conduct, since December and January are summer down under, where scientists found a 4 percent hike.

Josh Knight at the University of Melbourne, said a combination of factors likely create the spike.

One comprises people who are very sick, perhaps near the end of their lives, but hang on for the holidays. They may be discharged from the hospital in order to be home with their families, but that makes them more at risk for death.

The other group includes people who put off treatment until after the holidays, but that delay might be just enough to deprive them of many more years of life.

Other theories on the increase in death include holiday stress, changes in diet, drinking more alcohol, lighter staffing at hospitals and travel taking people away from their regular healthcare providers.

The study examined more than 738,000 deaths in New Zealand over 25 years, 1988-2013. Of those, more than 197,000 were from heart-related conditions.

Weather wasn't taken into consideration, but New Zealand island climate has few extreme temperatures throughout the year.

Doctors will probably continue to offer the usual advice about avoiding rich foods, smoking and alcohol, but they may need to add the need to know how to get health care services and emergency care when traveling, and especially to not avoid seeking treatment if signs of cardiac distress appear.

You can read the original report, published online Dec. 22 in the Journal of the American Heart Association, here: http://bit.ly/2hgfKi6

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