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Heart attack deaths increase during winter holidays

The last week of December brings more heart attack deaths than any other time of year, research shows. Keeping a healthy routine and staying aware of warning signs are the keys to prevention. 

A study published by Circulation, a scientific journal focused on cardiovascular health, found that more heart attack deaths occur on Dec. 25 than any other day of the year, closely followed by Dec. 26 and Jan. 1.

A variety of factors may contribute to this trend, the American Heart Association reports. The holidays can be stressful, medications may be forgotten, doctor’s visits may be pushed off until the new year, and people often consume more sugar, salt and alcohol, and exercise less consistently.

Knowing the risks and being aware of your limits is important, said American Heart Association chief clinical science officer Dr. Mitchell Elkind.

Be aware of heart attack symptoms. Beyond chest pain, pain in the arm, neck, or face, nausea, breaking out in a sweat, or feeling dizzy are all symptoms of a cardiac event. These subtle symptoms are more common in women.

If you are having symptoms, don’t wait until the holidays have passed to seek medical advice.

“We think one of the main reasons driving the increase in cardiovascular events during holidays is that people don’t seek help,” said Elkind. This is especially true for people who may be alone during this time.

“We need to look after those who are more vulnerable,” said Elkind. If any at-risk family members will be by themselves during the holidays, be sure to check in on them and ensure they’re feeling alright and taking their medications.

If you have a history of heart issues, don’t overwork yourself.

“People who do have cardiovascular disease or are at risk should be particularly careful about exertion, like shoveling snow,” said Elkind. The cold weather itself can also strain the heart.

Learning hands-only CPR is an invaluable skill. In the event of a heart attack, knowing how to perform chest compressions can save a life – and it’s easy to learn. Visit for an instructional video.

It’s important to have fun during the holidays, said Elkind, just be mindful and try to maintain some balance. If you’re going to spend the evening celebrating, take it easy in the morning.

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, and West Virginia tops state rankings in heart attack and coronary heart disease rates. Knowing how to stay heart-healthy is critical, and you don’t have to wait until the new year to start.