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Flu is not the only winter malady

Monday - 1/14/2013, 9:34am  ET

Paula Wolfson, wtop.com

WASHINGTON - This is a busy time of year for hospital emergency rooms, and not just because of the flu. Winter is also the peak season for heart problems.

"Right after the Christmas and New Year's holiday more people start to flood into the emergency room," says Dr. Reginald Robinson, a heart specialist with Cardiology Associates in D.C. and MedStar Washington Hospital Center.

For a long time, the conventional wisdom was that the cold weather was to blame, but Robinson says recent research shows that is not necessarily the case.

Researchers from Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles analyzed 2005-2008 death certificates from seven locations, from the snowy north to the sunny south.

They found heart-related deaths were 26 to 36 percent higher in winter than in summer, regardless of climate.

"You have those areas that have warm weather throughout the winter, but also are having higher cardiac events," Robinson says.

The researchers did not look into why heart-related deaths spike in the winter, although theories abound.

Robinson suggests that some people may delay going to the doctor if they first feel symptoms around Christmas time. Holiday stress may also be a contributing factor, and the surge in respiratory infections and the flu in the winter months could play a role.

The author of the study, Dr. Bryan Schwartz of the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque, even suggests that the lack of daylight in winter could contribute too, since that has been linked to depression and people tend to eat more and exercise less when they are feeling down.

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