Heart attack risk rises in winter — especially over the holidays

WASHINGTON — Right now, we’re approaching the time of year with the highest risk for heart attacks.

“There is a spike of heart deaths that occur on Christmas and on New Year’s Day; it’s really quite impressive,” Chief of Cardiology with MedStar Heart & Vascular Institute, Dr. Allen Taylor said. “It’s about a doubling.”

While the winter holidays are the time of year with the highest risk of all, Taylor said the risk of heart attacks goes up by about 50 percent during winter months in general. Cold temperatures could be one factor.

“Your blood clots differently in the winter. And it’s certainly a time of stress,” Taylor noted. “So, whatever the cause, the winter is a particularly dangerous time for heart attack risk.”

Taylor believes a number of holiday-specific factors could be in play:

  • People forget to take their medicines
  • They don’t get enough rest
  • There could be increased stress
  • Diets change with excessive eating
  • Alcohol consumption is more prevalent

“Because of drinking, we see a little more heart rhythm problems: atrial fibrillation,” Taylor said.

To help counter all these risk factors, Taylor offers the following advice:

  • Stay on your medicines
  • Get adequate rest
  • Keep your diet as close to normal as possible
  • Avoid stress that you can avoid

Good luck avoiding stress. And, as tempting as it might be to wave off symptoms you might experience because you’re busy, Taylor warns you must seek help.

Things to look out for:

  • New chest pain
  • Unusual shortness of breath
  • For older patients, feeling tired or just “not right.”

“Don’t avoid your symptoms. If you’re having symptoms, having concerns, get help,” Taylor said.


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