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Holidays Are Here—But Not for Heart Health Hazards

November 11, 2023 Posted in: Blogs

The holidays can be joyous and exhilarating, but the hustle and bustle can also be hard on your heart. Being aware of the risks and taking steps to protect your cardiovascular health can help you and your loved ones enjoy a happy and healthful holiday season. 

Heart Attack

Research has shown more people die from heart attacks during the winter holidays than at any other time of year. Stress, disrupted routines, heightened emotions, overindulging in alcohol and festive foods, skipping medications, neglecting exercise routines and overlooking warning signs may all contribute. 

Signs of heart attack may be sudden and severe, or symptoms may be subtle and develop slowly. A person having a heart attack may experience:

  • Chest pain or discomfort (squeezing, burning, pressure, uncomfortable fullness or tightness)

  • Discomfort elsewhere in the upper body (arm, back, jaw, neck, shoulder or stomach)

  • Shortness of breath

  • Cold sweat or clammy skin

  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

  • Unexplained nausea or vomiting

 

Women may experience heart attacks differently from men, with pressure in the upper back, dizziness and passing out being more common signs of heart attack in women than men.

Even if you’re not sure your symptoms are serious, don’t hesitate to call 911. If it is a heart attack, the emergency medical team can immediately begin lifesaving treatments. 

 Holiday Heart Syndrome and Other Copycats

Holiday heart syndrome (HHS) is the sudden onset of heart palpitations in otherwise healthy people. Drinking too many alcoholic beverages too quickly is the most common cause of HHS.

Signs of HHS occur suddenly and include:

  • Rapid, fluttering, irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation or A-fib)

  • Dizziness

  • Shortness of breath

 

Symptoms of HHS usually go away within 24 hours. But because A-fib is strongly linked with stroke, even a brief episode is worth a visit to urgent care or your primary care physician to have it checked out.

Other conditions that may cause copycat syndromes include heartburn—pain caused by acid reflux—and panic attacks. The excitement and overindulgence of the holidays can cause these conditions to become more acute, too.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked, most often by a blood clot in a major blood vessel. The lack of blood supply starves the brain of oxygen and vital nutrients, and brain cells begin to die within minutes. The damage caused by a stroke can lead to long-term health issues, disability or even death. 

Stroke symptoms come on rapidly and include: 

  • Confusion

  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others

  • Loss of balance or coordination, dizziness

  • Severe headache

  • Vision problems 

  • Weakness or numbness on one side of the body

 

Additional stroke symptoms are harder to recognize and may include:

  • Pain in the chest, arms, legs or face

  • Persistent hiccups

  • Rapid or irregular heartbeat

  • Unexplained nausea

 

Quick treatment for stroke is essential to preserve brain function and save lives. If you notice any of these signs, note the time and call 911 right away.

Have a Heart-Healthy Holiday

Try these tips to prevent a heart trouble during the hectic holiday season.

  • Know and watch for the signs. Being aware of heart attack, HHS and stroke symptoms can benefit you and your loved ones.

  • Celebrate in moderation. Avoid drinking too much alcohol too quickly. Savor smaller amounts of rich, fatty or sweet treats. Watch out for salty foods; too much sodium can increase blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke.

  • Stick to your exercise routine. Physical activity is beneficial for your heart year-round.

  • Slower pace, greater peace. Trying to keep up with too many holiday activities can increase your blood pressure and put stress and strain on your heart.

  • Listen to your body. Don’t dismiss things like a racing heartbeat or shortness of breath as just part of the holiday rush. Pay attention to any unusual symptoms and get medical help. And pay attention to winter health and safety tips to avoid sickness and injury.

 

Concerned about your heart health? Find a cardiologist at St. Luke’s Health to answer your questions.

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