For reasons research has yet to determine, heart attacks and strokes occur more often during the holiday season, especially around Christmas and New Year’s Day. Conjecture about the possible culprits usually includes factors like increased stress, richer foods, more drinking, and even the desire for seriously ill people to try to postpone death until they can share one more holiday season with their loved one.
The American Heart Association (AHA) highlighted the connection by telling the story of 41-year-old Julie Rickman, who explained she “felt like we were running around, going everywhere, and I just couldn’t catch my breath.” On Dec. 26, she felt short of breath while folding laundry and decided to go to the emergency room — a trip that saved her life. She had suffered a heart attack.
“I have no idea when the heart attack happened,” she said. “I was one of those women who attributed feeling bad to the holidays and thinking I was exhausted.”
Whether it’s seasonal stress, family dynamics, fatigue, consumption of alcohol and high-calorie foods, the holidays seem to pose a higher heart risk for many people. That’s why it’s timely to be alert to the warning signs of a heart attack or stroke. According to the AHA, you should seek medical attention immediately if you feel:
•Chest pain, or pressure or a sense of being squeezed
•Discomfort elsewhere, such as the neck or jaw
•Short of breath
•Chilled and sweaty
All these are symptoms of a heart attack and should be addressed as quickly as possible.
A stroke can present sudden, severe symptoms, too. And again, time is of the essence. According to the National Stroke Association, you should seek medical help immediately if you experience:
•Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of your body
•Blurred vision or difficulty seeing
•Sudden confusion or difficulty understanding or speaking
•A sudden, severe headache
•A loss of balance or coordination
Resources for recognizing stroke and heart attacks
The National Stroke Association has resources for stroke survivors, caregivers and health care providers.The American Heart Association offers extensive information about heart attacks, from risk factors to recovery.
Providence Stroke Center's Dr. Ted Lowenkopf says physicians are able to treat more people who have suffered stroke, thanks to improved technology.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention provides extensive information about heart disease, including some common risk factors, such as a lack of exercise, an unhealthy diet, obesity and family history.
If you’re with someone who seems to be suffering a heart attack or stroke, call 911 or take them directly to an emergency department.
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This information is not intended as a substitute for professional medical care. Always follow your health care professional's instructions.