When it comes to heart attacks, Christmas Eve is a real killer

Smoking, excessive drinking and sleeping too much or too little can all shorten your life, but so too can stress. A new study claims that Christmas Eve, among other key events during the year, increases the risk of a heart attack.

The research, published in the latest edition of the peer-reviewed BMJ (British Medical Journal), found that the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack peaks by around 37 percent at around 10 p.m. on Christmas Eve, particularly for older and sicker people, most likely due to stress and anxiety during the holiday season, the report added. It said these are likely people already at risk of having a heart attack.

The risk was also higher during the New Year celebration, and midsummer holidays, and 8 a.m. on Monday mornings, but not during Easter or major sport events, the study concluded. “Other short-term events linked to emotional stress, such as major sporting events, hurricanes and stock-market crashes, have also been associated with a higher risk of heart attack,” it added.

The authors, however, do note that anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and stress have previously been associated with the increase in the risk of heart attack, as well as physical activity and lifestyle changes, according to the David Erlinge, head of cardiology at Lund University in Sweden, who led the study. People are likely to experience “heightened emotions” around stressful holidays, he said.

Previous studies have also shown a peak in heart attacks across the Western World during Christmas and New Year festivities, and during Islamic holidays in countries where the religion predominates, the study concluded. This latest research analyzed the exact timing of 283,014 heart attacks reported to the Swedish coronary care unit registry from 1998 to 2013.

The risk of heart attack was the highest in people over 75, and those with existing diabetes and heart disease, which the researchers said highlights the need for more awareness around the issue, and the possible causes of stress. Contrary to previous studies looking at heart attacks and events, they found no increased risk during sports events or during the Easter holidays.

The authors claimed that this is the largest study conducted using heart-attack data from a well-known registry, but they also cautioned that it is an “observational study,” so they did not draw firm conclusions about cause and effect. That is, the results suggest correlation rather than causation, and they cannot rule out other variables that may contribute to this increased health crisis.

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