Heart Health and the Holidays: Reasons Heart Attack Rates Rise in Winter

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For most, late December is the most festive time of year.  From Christmas to New Year’s Eve, there are multiple dinners, parties, and various celebratory events to attend.  And, each of these events are likely laden with delicious, albeit unhealthy, foods and alcohol.  At the same time, the temperatures begin to lower and illnesses begin to rise.  It’s a combination that can leave you not only feeling a bit sluggish, but also one that can actually take a negative toll on your heart health. 

Doctors already know that a patient’s risk of suffering a heart attack increases during the winter months.  And, although there are certainly many factors that contribute to major cardiovascular events, the following make this time of year exceptionally dangerous:

Cold Weather Affects the Heart

Scientific studies have shown a definitive connection between cold weather and an increased risk of heart attack.  As the temperature drops, major heart health factors such as blood pressure, cholesterol, and propensity to develop blood clots all increase.  In fact, a mere one degree drop in temperature has been shown to result in as much as a two percent increase in heart attack risk.  Much of these heart changes can be attributed to blood vessels which constrict in an effort to keep the body warm.  However, this “protective” change can actually be harmful to some patients, as it forces the heart to pump faster and harder.

Winter Activities put the Heart at Risk

While piling snow may not be a problem for our southern patients, many across the country must deal with the task of clearing snow-covered walkways and driveways each winter.  It’s a physically daunting task and one that can easily strain an already overworked heart that is attempting to keep the body warm.  So, if you find yourself in a situation where clearing snow is an absolute must, use a cautious pace and take frequent breaks, or best of all, obtain outside help to do the job for you.

Holiday Overindulgence Harms the Heart

Heavy meals are no rare occurrence during the holiday season.  From Thanksgiving on, there are plenty of large dinners in which to indulge.  Unfortunately, those heavy meals leave your body with the task of digesting them, a process which requires additional blood flow to the stomach.  Go outside into the cold after one of these meals, and those constricted blood vessels mentioned earlier drain the available amount of blood for the heart even further.  It all adds up to a potentially dangerous scenario for an overworked and under-supported heart. 

In addition to food, we have a tendency to overindulge in alcohol throughout the Christmas and New Year’s holidays as well.   This extended period of heavy drinking has been observed to result in heart palpitations in some.  In fact, so common is this occurrence that it has been dubbed “holiday heart syndrome.”  And, while most cases resolve without incident, such changes in heart rhythm can be dangerous, particularly for those suffering from a pre-existing heart condition or associated risk factors.

Flu Season is Dangerous for the Heart

The current flu season is shaping up to be one of the worst in recent memory.  Already, rates are shown to be up significantly across the country, with southern states seeing particularly high rates of the flu.  For patients with heart disease or commonly associated risk factors, contracting influenza can result in dangerous complications, up to and including a heart attack.  This is why it is so important for patients of all ages to receive their annual flu vaccination, as doing so has been shown to reduce the risk of associated heart attacks by as much as 45 percent.

Don’t let common winter heart threats have a negative impact on your health.  Be considerate of each of the factors above and how they may impact your own heart attack risk.  Then, take the necessary precautions to keep each to a minimum. 

Want to take ensuring your heart health a step further?  Request a consultation with a CIS cardiologist to discuss any heart conditions or risk factors you may have and how they may be best addressed in order to maintain overall health.

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CIS Staff

Written by CIS Staff