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Heart attacks increase by 40% in the final weeks of each year due to stress and changes in daily schedules, experts warn

  • Heart attacks in America increase up to 40% during the final weeks of the year
  • Stressors from travel plans and disruptions to every day life lead to the increase
  • Around 800,000 heart attacks occur in the US every year, and half are fatal 

While the holiday season is a time for family and festivities, experts warn it is a time where deaths from heart attacks also rise.

There are around 40 percent more heart attacks during the week between Christmas and New Years than the average US week. Doctors blame family stressors, travel, cold weather and even sports for causing the jump.

Around 800,000 Americans suffer a heart attack each year, around half are fatal. Survivors of heart attacks are more likely to suffer one again in their life. Heart disease, which can lead to heart attacks – is responsible for 20 percent of US deaths.

Cardiovascular issues are the leading cause of death both in America and across the world. The prevalence of obesity and other weight-related conditions in the US puts the population at an even higher risk of heart complications than that of other nations.

Heart attacks surge during the final weeks of the year, nebivolol pbs as stressors around Christmas and New Years, and disruptions to daily life lead to a surge in heart issues (file photo)

‘During the holiday season, there are different stresses like dealing with your in-laws and travel arrangements that may add stress,’ Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones, a cardiologist at Northwestern University, in Evanston, Illinois, said.

Dr Donald Lloyd-Jones (pictured), a cardiologist at Northwestern University, said everything from travel plans to sports teams can lead to stress this holiday season 

He explained that heart attack rates are fairly stable week-to-week. While numbers might slightly dip over summer, there are rarely any dramatic shifts during the year.

This changes right at the end of each year, though. Heart attack rates begin to surge during the weeks heading into Christmas and New Years each winter.

While every case is different, experts have identified a few reasons this change occurs each year.

One of the main drivers of heart related issues is stress as it leads to high blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure damages arteries and causes build up of plaque.

In turn, oxygen rich blood has trouble making it to the heart, and when the vital organ is deprived of enough oxygen it can lead to a heart attack.

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While many think of the holiday season as a time to relax and recharge, it can also be a hectic time.

First, the month of preparation leading up to the holiday. Buying gifts for loved-ones can be a stressful experience, and potential financial limitations can make things worse.

There is also the matter of figuring out travel arrangements, as some families have to travel across the country – if not internationally – for their holiday gatherings.

Then their are the gatherings themselves. People have to interact with in-laws or other family members they may not be keen of – another stressor.

He even warns that sporting events like the World Cup, which took place over winter this year instead of its normal summer time slot, could be a source of stress too.

‘We also see variations, or small increases, around sporting events like the World Cup, the Olympics and other events,’ Dr Lloyd-Jones said. 

‘The acute stresses of rooting for your team, whether they’re doing well or poorly, might cause your blood pressure to spike.’ 

The signs a loved-one could have dementia this Christmas

Forgetting to turn the oven on for Christmas dinner yesterday may have been a warning sign that a loved one has dementia, health chiefs have warned.

Not remembering names, presents or the way around a relative’s house could also signal that an elderly friend or family member is suffering from the memory-robbing illness.

Forgetting the names of loved ones to the point that it ’causes embarrassment’ and not bringing a present of a more distant relative, such as a niece or nephew, could also be a tell-tale sign.

Other signals include confusion in a new environment — such as a hotel or a relative’s house — which could see those with dementia become disorientated and confused and go into the wrong bedroom.

Getting knocked off of daily routines during the end-of-year period as well, and changes to behavior can increase heart attack risk even more.

‘We’re often knocked off our eating and sleeping patterns, we tend to consume more alcohol, we’re not pursuing our typical physical activity and we may get thrown off our medication schedule,’ Dr Lloyd-Jones continued.

Sleep deprivation increases a person’s blood pressure. For a person who already suffers severe heart problems, a few weeks of poor sleeping habits can be enough to tilt them over the edge. Alcohol also causes a jump in blood pressure. 

This change in schedule also leads to some people who take medication for hypertension missing a day while busy with holiday festivities.

The last few weeks of the year are often among the coldest too – especially this year where America was struck with a massive arctic blast.

Dr Lloyd-Jones explains the cold weather chills the blood in a person’s lungs, causes blood vessels to constrict, and leads to even more problems as a result.

‘The first blood vessels downstream from the lungs are the coronary arteries, which are particularly affected by the cold weather,’ he explained.

‘Pursuing cold-weather activities, like shoveling, may be especially hazardous because we might overdo it, plus we’re wearing extra layers, which could cause us to overheat. It’s a perfect storm to maximize stress on the heart.’  

Doctors warn people that suffer from heart problems to be vigilant in these final few weeks of the year. They should make sure to continue taking any prescribed medication, watch out for stressors and limit the amount of alcohol they drink.

They should also immediately seek medical attention if they feel any early signs of a heart attack, such as heavy breathing, chest pressure or shortness of breathe. 

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