Studies show heart attacks and strokes can increase this time of year which can make the holiday season an especially dangerous time.
For many years researchers have been intrigued by a disturbing pattern: Deadly heart attacks increase during the winter holiday season. One study even found distinct spikes around Christmas and New Year’s Day.
It is a stressful time, but you need to take care of yourself and try to watch what you eat. You want to eat healthy, but it’s not what you do during the holidays, it’s what you do every other day. If you limit your indulgences to the actual holidays, you can enjoy, but listen to your body.
A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to the heart is blocked, most often by a build-up of fat, cholesterol and other substances, which form a plaque in the arteries that feed the heart (coronary arteries). The interrupted blood flow can damage or destroy part of the heart muscle.
A heart attack, also called a myocardial infarction, can be fatal, but treatment has improved dramatically over the years. It’s crucial to call 911 or emergency medical help if you think you might be having a heart attack.
High blood pressure is a major risk factor for heart attack and stroke. The American Heart Association says heart attack-related deaths are 5 percent more likely around Christmas and New Year’s.
According to the study, the number of cardiac deaths is higher on Dec. 25th than on any other day of the year, second highest on Dec. 26th, and third highest on Jan. 1st.
Doctors say people are eating more, drinking more, and they are not exercising. People who have risk factors for heart disease are at highest risk but moderation is good for everyone.
Anyone could be at risk if they’re consuming a lot of alcohol or eating a ton of salt, or under a lot of stress.
People with high blood pressure also need to remember that decongestants can raise blood pressure so be careful with the over-the-counter medicines.
Doctors say it’s especially important that heart patients take their medications on their usual schedule through the holiday season and pay attention to warning signs that can include shortness of breath, dizziness or pain in your chest, arm or neck.
Measures during the holiday time of year:
• Try to avoid exposure to very cold temperatures. Dress warmly.
• Steer clear of heart stressors, including too much physical exertion anger, and emotional stress.
• Avoid excess salt and alcohol. Too much drinking– for example, binge drinking — can lead to atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm in which disorganized electrical signals cause the heart`s two upper chambers to contract irregularly. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure.
• If you feel chest pain or other symptoms, call 911 for emergency help.
Chest discomfort or pain. This discomfort or pain can feel like a tight ache, pressure, fullness or squeezing in your chest lasting more than a few minutes. This discomfort may come and go.
Upper body pain. Pain or discomfort may spread beyond your chest to your shoulders, arms, back, neck, teeth or jaw. You may have upper body pain with no chest discomfort.
Stomach pain. Pain may extend downward into your abdominal area and may feel like heartburn.
Shortness of breath. You may pant for breath or try to take in deep breaths. This often occurs before you develop chest discomfort, or you may not experience any chest discomfort.
Anxiety. You may feel a sense of doom or feel as if you’re having a panic attack for no apparent reason.
Lightheadedness. In addition to chest pressure, you may feel dizzy or feel like you might pass out.
Sweating. You may suddenly break into a sweat with cold, clammy skin.
Nausea and vomiting. You may feel sick to your stomach or vomit.
Heart palpitations. You may feel as if your heart is skipping beats, or you may just be very aware that your heart is beating.
• Chest pain is common for both sexes. It could feel like heaviness, burning, or squeezing in the center of the chest. Some people describe the discomfort in terms of tightness or pressure, which may radiate from the chest to either arm, the jaw, neck, or back.
• Less common symptoms for both sexes include breaking out in a cold sweat, general weakness, nausea, shortness of breath, dizziness and/or lightheadedness, and/or discomfort or pain between the shoulder blades.
• Women are more likely than men to complain of the less common symptoms listed above, as well as jaw and back pain, unusual fatigue, and trouble sleeping due to the pain. They may also have a sense that something is terribly wrong or feel an impending sense of doom. Because these are not necessarily the typical symptoms, and women still often perceive themselves as being less likely to experience a heart attack than men, they are slower to seek medical attention and therefore are at greater risk of dying from a heart attack than men.
Heart attack symptoms vary:
Not all people who have heart attacks have the same symptoms or have the same severity of symptoms. Some people have mild pain; others have more severe pain. Some people have no symptoms, while for others, the first sign may be sudden cardiac arrest. However, the more signs and symptoms you have, the greater the likelihood you’re having a heart attack.
Some heart attacks strike suddenly, but many people have warning signs and symptoms hours, days or weeks in advance. The earliest warning may be recurrent chest pain (angina) that’s triggered by exertion and relieved by rest. Angina is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.
A heart attack differs from a condition in which your heart suddenly stops (sudden cardiac arrest, which occurs when an electrical disturbance disrupts your heart’s pumping action and causes blood to stop flowing to the rest of your body). A heart attack can cause cardiac arrest, but it’s not the only cause.
When to see a doctor:
Act immediately. Some people wait too long because they don’t recognize the important signs and symptoms. Take these steps:
· Call for emergency medical help. If you suspect you’re having a heart attack, don’t hesitate. Immediately call 911 or your local emergency number. If you don’t have access to emergency medical services, have someone drive you to the nearest hospital.
Drive yourself only if there are no other options. Because your condition can worsen, driving yourself puts you and others at risk.
· Take nitroglycerin, if prescribed to you by a doctor. Take it as instructed while awaiting emergency help.
· Take aspirin, if recommended. Taking aspirin during a heart attack could reduce heart damage by helping to keep your blood from clotting.
Aspirin can interact with other medications, however, so don’t take an aspirin unless your doctor or emergency medical personnel recommend it. Don’t delay calling 911 to take an aspirin. Call for emergency help first.
What to do if you see someone having a heart attack:
If you encounter someone who is unconscious, first call for emergency medical help. Then begin CPR to keep blood flowing. Push hard and fast on the person’s chest in a fairly rapid rhythm — about 100 to 120 compressions a minute. It’s not necessary to check the person’s airway or deliver rescue breaths unless you’ve been trained in CPR.
A heart attack occurs when one or more of your coronary arteries become blocked. Over time, a coronary artery can narrow from the buildup of various substances, including cholesterol (atherosclerosis). This condition, known as coronary artery disease, causes most heart attacks.
During a heart attack, one of these plaques can rupture and spill cholesterol and other substances into the bloodstream. A blood clot forms at the site of the rupture. If large enough, the clot can completely block the flow of blood through the coronary artery.
Another cause of a heart attack is a spasm of a coronary artery that shuts down blood flow to part of the heart muscle. Use of tobacco and of illicit drugs, such as cocaine, can cause a life-threatening spasm. A heart attack can also occur due to a tear in the heart artery (spontaneous coronary artery dissection).
Certain factors contribute to the unwanted buildup of fatty deposits (atherosclerosis) that narrows arteries throughout your body. You can improve or eliminate many of these risk factors to reduce your chances of having a first or subsequent heart attack.
Heart attack risk factors include:
Age. Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
Tobacco. Smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of a heart attack.
High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart by accelerating atherosclerosis. High blood pressure that occurs with obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases your risk even more.
High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to your diet, also ups your risk of heart attack. However, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lowers your risk of heart attack.
·Diabetes. Insulin, a hormone secreted by your pancreas, allows your body to use glucose, a form of sugar. Having diabetes — not producing enough insulin or not responding to insulin properly — causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise. Diabetes, especially uncontrolled, increases your risk of a heart attack.
·Family history of heart attack. If your siblings, parents or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives), you may be at increased risk.
Lack of physical activity. An inactive lifestyle contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity. People who get regular aerobic exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, which decreases their overall risk of heart attack. Exercise is also beneficial in lowering high blood pressure.
Obesity. Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower this risk, however.
Stress. You may respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
Illegal drug use. Using stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger a spasm of your coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack.
A history of preeclampsia. This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
A history of an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
This piece by Roland Rodriguez was first seen on ‘Kristv’ 4 December 2017.