Why do Heart Attacks Spike around the Holidays?

December 20, 2018

Heart attacks peak around the holidays, according to the American Heart Association (AHA), but what’s the reason behind the spike?

“People can be more likely to delay health care around the holidays,” said Maria Rangel, M.D., assistant professor of cardiology at Wake Forest Baptist Health. “Someone may be experiencing symptoms of a heart attack, yet interpret their indicators as added stress from the holidays, indigestion from an assortment of seasonal treats or just postpone seeking help due to a busy holiday-filled schedule.”

Not all people who have heart attacks experience the same symptoms or the same severity of symptoms – some have mild pain while others have severe pain. Some even may have no symptoms and their first sign can be sudden cardiac arrest.

It’s important to note the different heart attack symptoms commonly experienced by men and women, says Rangel. Below, the AHA and Rangel provide heart attack symptoms men and women may share and the additional indicators that women can experience:

Common Heart Attack Symptoms in Both Men and Women:

  • Discomfort or pain in the upper body, one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach
  • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath that occurs with or without exertion
  • Excessive sweating or breaking out in a cold sweat
  • Nausea
  • Lightheadedness
  • Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes or goes away and comes back

Additional Heart Attack Symptoms That Women May Experience:

  • Indigestion-like symptoms including heartburn or an upset stomach
  • Waking during the night out of breath
  • Women are more likely to describe sharp, burning chest pain and more frequently have pain in the neck, jaw, throat, abdomen or back.
  • Unexplained severe anxiety, fatigue or overall lack of energy
  • Dizziness or fainting that occurs with or without chest pain.

Around the holidays it’s easy to forget to take medications and stray from usual diets and exercise routines – it’s important to stay attentive and consistent with a usual schedule though, even around the holidays, says Rangel.

The body works harder when it’s colder outside, and to ensure the body stays warm, layering clothing and wearing thicker gear can help prevent heart attacks. Those with heart disease should also avoid shoveling snow, Rangel adds.

“Minutes matter most when someone is having a heart attack,” said Rangel. “If someone is suspected of having a heart attack or you think you’re experiencing one yourself, call 911 immediately.”

Media contacts

Eryn Johnson, eryjohns@wakehealth.edu, 336-713-8228

Joe McCloskey, jmcclosk@wakehealth.edu, 336-716-1273