Whitesburg KY
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Happy New Year heart attack

To the Editor

While Christmas is a wonderful time of the year, unfortunately heart attack season has arrived. Doctors call this the “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack” Phenomenon.

December and January are traditionally the most lethal months of the year for heart disease and the chief culprits are rich food, alcohol, extra stress and a double dose of denial of symptoms.

A particularly heavy meal particularly high in fat and salt content can stress the heart and increase both blood pressure and heart rate.

This can in turn make the coronary arteries more prone to increased clot burden and plaque rupture.

Throw in the cold weather, obesity, sedentary life style and smoking, and you have a recipe for disaster, especially when people attempt winter activities like shoveling snow.

Statistically it is a proven fact that nationwide the highest incidence of cardiac death coincides with the Christmas season.

Another little known fact is that while alcohol in moderation is considered hearthealthy, excessive binges during holiday season, the socalled “holiday heart syndrome”, can result in irritation to the heart muscle triggering an irregular rhythm called arterial fibrillation which if left untreated can tragically result in strokes.

And then of course, we have the inevitable ignoring of symptoms during the holiday season. It is amazing that nearly 60 to 70 percent of patients with an impending heart attack (particularly women) do not have chest pain but present with chest pain equivalents like indigestion, heartburn, shortness of breath, fatigue, palpitations, chest tightness, pressure and sweating. So if you have symptoms, do not ignore them. Call your doctor right away or go the emergency room for an evaluation.

But then this brings up another dilemma during the Christmas season. Hospitals are short staffed during the holidays, which could potentially slow the time to diagnosis. But, do not fret because the good news is that most hospitals are now shifting their focus and gearing up to a rapid care approach for heart attack victims so that the “door to balloon” or “door to clot buster” time is achieved within what is referred to as the “golden hour”.

Between shopping, traveling and partying, most heart attack victims during the holiday season have been found to have ignored their symptoms, failed to take their medications or forgotten their doctor’s appointment.

They get caught up in the spirit of the Christmas season and feel they have a perfectly valid reason to take a break from the diet and exercise.

Emotional stress is a little recognized factor in triggering heart attacks during the holiday season.

People feel stressed with just the thought of having to interact with relatives or the financial pressure revolving around the purchase of gifts and entertaining and juggling with travel plans.

So for this holiday season my hope is that by understanding the reasons behind the Christmas Coronary and the Happy New Year Heart Attack Phenomenon, less people would be affected by it because, after all, knowledge gives you the edge and the power to control your own destiny.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year.


Dr. P.S. Chandrashekar is a Board Certified cardiologist. He operates the Mountain Heart Center in Whitesburg, Pikeville, Harlan, Jenkins, Cumberland, and Hindman.

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