How’s your heart this Christmas?
Doctors’ group warns: More people suffer heart attack, stroke at Christmastime – and they are more likely to die at this time than at any other time of the year

MANILA, Philippines – What a song calls “the most wonderful time of the year” is also when “more people suffer heart attack and stroke,” a doctors’ group warned.

“Worse, sufferers are more likely to die then than [at] any other time of the year,” the Philippine College of Physicians (PCP) Foundation said in an advisory on Monday, December 14. “The phenomenon is called Merry Christmas Coronary, Happy New Year Heart Attack.”

PCP Foundation identified 4 factors that contribute to the increase in cardiovascular cases during the holidays:

  • Cold weather
  • Holiday stress (caused by, among other things, traffic and overcrowding in shopping areas)
  • Pollution
  • Food and alcohol binging

“Eating and drinking sprees send them to emergency rooms for palpitations and light-headedness – symptoms of ‘holiday heart,’” said PCP Foundation president Dr Anthony Leachon.

While some get fortunate that their abnormal heart rhythm becomes stable in 24 hours, “others would require admission for monitoring and, in extreme cases, electric shock to normalize heart rates,” Leachon said. “It’s certainly not a fun way to spend the holidays.” 

Leachon, a cardiologist at the Manila Doctors Hospital, cited a survey of hospitals in the National Capital Region, which showed that from 2004 to 2008 emergencies and admissions tripled during the holidays. The cases involved heart attack, stroke, and diabetes triggered by overeating and too much drinking.

The monthly average of such emergencies and admissions was between 30 and 50 cases from January to November. When December kicked in, however, the figures shot up to 153 in 2004, 163 in 2005, 172 in 2006, 170 in 2007, and 170 in 2008. 

“Half of the holiday patients expired,” he said. 

To help revellers avoid heart diseases and stroke during the holidays, the PCP Foundation has these health tips:

  • Stop smoking.
  • Stick to low fat, low salt diet.
  • Exercise daily for 30 minutes.
  • If you have to drink alcohol, do so moderately
  • Don’t skip regular appointments with the doctor.
  • Have enough of your usual medications, especially if you’re travelling. Pharmacies might go on break. 
  • If you’re going out of town, check out the medical facilities where you will be traveling. Ask your physician who you could see if you need a doctor
  • away from home.
  • If you have symptoms, don’t ignore them.

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Remember that the Philippines’ situation seems to be worse, the doctors’ group said.

The Journal of the American Heart Association published in December 2004 a study that charted 53 million deaths in the United States over a 26-year period, from 1973 to 2001. 

“It revealed a 5% jump in natural-cause demise during the holidays. Christmas Day was the deadliest, followed by December 26, then January 1,” the PCP Foundation advisory said.

Another study, by cardiologist James Jollis at Duke University, showed that among 127,959 patients hospitalized for heart attack between 1994 and 1996, “the 30-day mortality of patients in December [was] higher.” The culprit? “Over-indulgence.”

Cardiologist Robert Kloner’s also noted that “change of diet rather than temperature leads to more heart attacks and strokes.” In his 1999 report, he said, “Merrymakers of all ages tend to eat fatty stuff; adults drink more alcohol in parties. Pollutants from wood-burning fireplaces further trigger cardiovascular irregularities.”

“All three studies by Phillips, Jollis, and Kloner exhibit annual 5% rises in heart attacks and strokes – and deaths – during Christmas,” the PCP Foundation said. – MAG/