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Ask Dr. Nandi: Spike in heart attacks during last 2 weeks of December raises questions about 'Holiday Heart'

Posted at 5:36 PM, Dec 19, 2022
and last updated 2022-12-19 17:36:46-05

(WXYZ) — The most dangerous time of the year for heart attacks is only days away. Between Christmas and New Year’s, the rate of heart attacks can spike as much as 40%.

The syndrome is known as ‘Holiday Heart'.

We’re all familiar with that famous saying, “Eat, drink and be merry”. And that tends to happen when families and friends gather to celebrate the holidays. There’s often a spread of delicious foods and festive drinks to indulge in.

But, too much alcohol and salty snacks can lead to the syndrome, 'Holiday Heart’. That’s when your heart starts to beat irregularly. The scientific term is called atrial fibrillation or AFib for short. Now, this can happen to anyone at any time, but your risk is higher if you have preexisting heart issues. And over time, it can also lead to heart failure and stroke.

Now, we can’t blame all heart attacks and strokes on bad food and drink choices. Despite the holiday cheer, there’s also a lot of stress from traveling, visiting family, buying that perfect gift, or preparing for parties. On top of that, we may not sleep well or take medications on time.

Also, winter weather can be a factor as well. Breathing cold air cause our blood vessels to constrict. And our coronary arteries are the first blood vessels just below our lungs. So it’s important to be mindful of winter-weather activities too.

Most heart attacks involve some sort of pain either in the center or left side of the chest. It may not always be crushing pain, it may feel more like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, or fullness. Other symptoms include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Feeling weak, light-headed, nausea or vomiting
  • Pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, or in one or both arms or shoulders

As for stroke, symptoms include:

  • Face drooping
  • Arm or leg weakness on one side
  • Speech difficulty

If anyone experiences any of these signs, it’s crucial to call 911 and get to a hospital immediately. Because heart attack and stroke are the leading causes of death. Which means time is of the essence.

So please do enjoy the fun festivities. But be mindful and don’t go overboard – eat and drink in moderation. Watch your stress and take good care of your body.