Midwinter Hazard - Heart Attacks

Last Editorial Review: 2/1/2005

Medical researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) in Los Angeles may win the "Grinch" contest this year (2000). The USC investigators studied death records from heart disease over a 12- month period and concluded that more people drop dead in December and January from heart attack than at any other time of the year. So, in addition to being frazzled by shopping and sapped by stress, there's the chance your ticker may terminate.

This noxious news is borne out by a study conducted in Seattle by investigators from the University of Washington Department of Biostatistics and Division of Cardiology with help from Medic One. Researchers studied 6,603 out-of-hospital cardiac arrests over an eight-year period ending in 1993 attended by the Seattle Fire Department. They concluded that cardiac arrests were most frequent in December, January, February and March and least frequent in July, August and September. They also discovered that cardiac arrests peaked on Monday.

At least one Seattle hospital, Northwest, has data along these lines with 34.8 percent of admissions for heart attacks coming in the winter months compared to 24.4 percent in summer.

The California researchers were surprised by their findings and postulated that holiday eating and drinking might play a part in the holiday heart problems. They also suggested that wood-burning fireplaces may discharge tiny particles that may decrease oxygen in the bloodstream and stress the heart.

The Washington State study noted "there is a clear seasonal variation" and concluded "it might be argued that the dreary rainy winter months take a toll on the psyche, thus enabling emotional triggers."

What can you do to keep from having a heart attack over the holidays? The best advice probably is to lower the stress. Use moderation in eating, drinking, and all things. And it may be wise, too, not to spend all of your time by a wood-burning fireplace!

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