Findings from a new study conducted by Swedish researchers reveals that Christmas is the peak time for heart attacks. The study is published in the British Medical Journal.
Although the prevalence of ischemic heart disease is declining in high-income countries, it continues to remain a common cause of morbidity and mortality. The disease is multifactorial with modifiable and non-modifiable risk factors, but there are also certain external factors that may trigger the onset of myocardial infarction.
Previous studies have shown that short-term risk factors such as emotional stress, heavy physical activity, cold weather, and air pollution have been known to have an impact on the risk of heart attacks. Similarly, external factors such as hurricanes, earthquakes, wars, sports events, stock market volatility are also associated with a higher risk of myocardial infarction.
For the purpose of this study, the researchers studied 283,014 heart attacks between 1998 and 2013. Their analysis showed that compared with days in the two weeks before and after Christmas, the risk of a heart attack was 15% higher on Christmas Day and 37% higher on Christmas Eve.
Their analysis also showed a 20% higher risk of heart on New Year’s Day and a 12% higher risk during Midsummer, a Swedish holiday. No significant increase in the risk of heart attacks was observed on New Year’s Eve or during Easter weekend. The highest risk was observed during Christmas Eve, especially in patients over the age of 75 years and with previous diabetes and coronary artery disease.
Lead author of the study Dr. David Erline, Head of the Cardiology Department at Lund University in Sweden, the higher incidence of heart attacks during Christmas may be due to the fact that holidays are associated with special stresses such as travel, interacting with family and friends, preparing for guests, extra physical activity, and excessive eating and drinking. These factors may contribute to the increased risk.
He also points out that these findings should be taken seriously because it was a big study and every heart attack in Sweden over a period of 16 years was included in the analysis.
Overall, the findings clearly show a higher risk of heart attacks during Christmas and Midsummer holidays. In addition, the risks were higher in older and sicker patients which suggest that these triggers might have an even higher impact on patients who are already vulnerable.