Emergency room doctors have coined the term “Christmas coronary” to describe the more than 30 percent increase in heart attacks and heart-related problems that occur during the winter months — especially on Christmas, the day after Christmas and on New Year’s Day. It’s also called “holiday heart.”
Christmas coronary sounds as bad as it is, but “holiday heart” — another doctor-named seasonal trend — seems as if it could be a Christmas movie (it is) or a description of what happened to the Grinch’s ticker when he gave the presents back.
Unfortunately, it’s not as jolly as it sounds. Dale Yoo, MD, a cardiac electrophysiologist at Medical City McKinney, says that if you leave the symptoms of holiday heart untreated and let it go on too long, it can lead to more serious conditions, including atrial fibrillation (AFIB), stroke and diabetes.
As the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., heart disease should get used to being nicknamed. But you shouldn’t have to suffer with it, no matter which name it goes by.
So we asked Dr. Yoo to explain holiday heart and give his best advice for avoiding it this winter.
“Holiday heart can affect anyone of any age who is under stress. And today, that includes young people as well,” said Dr. Yoo. “If you are experiencing any of the symptoms below, you should make an appointment with your doctor for a checkup.”
Symptoms of holiday heart can include:
- Unnatural heart rhythms, such as
- Heart palpitations or flutters
- Atrial fibrillation
- Atrial tachycardia
- Anxiety or panic
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Fainting (syncope)
- Trouble sleeping due to racing heart
- Excessive fatigue
Stress causes holiday heart.
“What do we typically do during the holidays?” said Dr. Yoo. “Our routine is disrupted and we compress a lot of activities into a very short period of time, such as hosting friends and family members, shopping, going to parties, cooking, cleaning and decorating, all of which can put additional stress on our hearts.”
Stress causes a release of hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol, which constrict blood vessels, increase heart rate and raise blood pressure. Over time, chronic stress can enable these conditions to become permanent.
Holiday heart stressors include:
- Eating rich foods loaded with fat and sugar
- Eating more food than normal
- Drinking more alcoholic beverages and less water
- Drinking more caffeinated beverages and less water
- Staying up late and not getting enough rest
- Exercising less than normal (who has time?)
- Stressing over all of it
Dr. Yoo’s top 3 tips to prevent holiday heart (and other heart problems).
- Make sure you get enough sleep based on your age:
- 12-14 years old / 9-11 hours
- 15-17 years old / 8-10 hours
- 18-64 years old / 7-9 hours
- 65 years old and up / 7-8 hours
- Drink lots of water: Drinking 40 ounces of water daily can cut the risk of dying from a heart attack by 41 percent for women and 54 percent for men, versus those who drank less than 16 ounces. But more is better!
- Decrease (or eliminate) additional sources of adrenaline (caffeine), including:
- Herbal supplements
- Energy drinks, such as 5-hour ENERGY® and Red Bull®
Additional ways to keep your heart from doing the holiday Hokey Pokey:
- Stay well nourished: Maintain a healthy diet and indulge in just a few seasonal treats.
- Move as much as you can: If you can’t get to the gym, take the stairs at work or find a place to walk at lunch.
- Be happy! For a list of 10 holiday stress-busters from Radhika Vayani, DO, an internal medicine physician at Medical City Alliance, watch the video below:
To find out who is at risk for holiday heart attacks (hint: age and gender don’t factor in), why they happen more frequently and tips to prevent them, we recommend Beware of Binging and Other Tips to Prevent Holiday Heart Attacks.
Find your personal risks for heart disease and start taking steps to decrease them today with our free Heart Risk Assessment.
We wish you and your family a very safe and happy holiday season, but if your heart skips a beat, one of our many Medical City Healthcare emergency locations has you covered. With average wait times posted online, if you do have an emergency, you can spend less time waiting and more time on the moments that matter most.
Revised October 26, 2017