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Michael TorchiaOperation Fitness
Michael Torchia

Heart Attack Season Is Approaching

More people die of heart attacks during the months of November thru January than any other time of the year.

Recent studies at various Universities across the country report that 53% more heart attacks occur in the winter than summer.  January was the leader with twice as many heart attacks per day than July, the safest month.  And winter heart attacks tended to be more serious with a 9% fatality rate.

Researchers from the HolisticHealthFoundation.com suggest that winter heart attacks produce more damage to cardiac muscle than those in any other season.  Torchia says, " there are many reasons as to why this could happen."

Understaffing at hospitals: Duke University researchers studied heart attack patients admitted to the hospital during the holidays. They found that these patients received fewer life-saving medications and procedures than patients admitted at other times of the year.  They also died more often.  The researchers believed that at least one of the causes was reduced hospital staffing during the holidays.  Torchia cites other reasons, listed below:

  • Cold temperatures. People with coronary artery disease can suffer chest pain when exposed to the cold. Hypothermia (a body temperature that is below normal) can cause heart failure and death. Wind can be especially dangerous, removing the layer of heated air that surrounds the body.

  • Snow. The amount of snow - as well as the physical stress of shoveling it - is linked to more heart attack deaths than the temperature.  Damp weather causes the body to lose heat faster than it would at the same temperature in drier conditions.

  • Alcohol. Drinking alcoholic beverages before going out in the cold can give you a feeling of warmth, but the alcohol actually draws heat away from your body's vital organs. Alcohol, cold weather and outdoor activity don't mix. These conditions increase your chances for hypothermia.

  • LDL (bad cholesterol) levels peak in December and January. High cholesterol is a major cause of heart disease.  

  • The holiday season. Holiday stress can cause chest pain and trigger heart attacks. So can excess eating and drinking, as well as the associated weight gain.

  • Colds, flu and other infections. One study showed that a person's heart attack risk triples in the 10 days following these types of illnesses.

Some ways to avoid heart attacks:

  • Get a flu shot. Studies show that if you've had a heart attack in the past, a flu shot can reduce your risk of a second heart attack by 67 percent.

  • Be careful outdoors. Check with your doctor before shoveling snow, and don't overdo it when outdoors. Your body has to work extra hard just to stay warm.

  • Follow heart-healthy habits. Exercise, eat right and don't smoke. It's OK to enjoy your holiday meal, but try not to overindulge.

  • Know the warning signs of a heart attack.
    • Discomfort or pain in the chest, possibly going into the neck, back, jaw, arms or shoulders.
    • Numbness or tingling in one or both arms.
    • Nausea or vomiting.
    • Extreme fatigue.
    • Shortness of breath.
    • Indigestion or heartburn.
    • Sweating.
    • Dizziness, weakness or passing out.

Don't wait:
If you experience any these symptoms, call 911 immediately. There are drugs that can save your life, but you need to take them within an hour of first noticing symptoms. Unfortunately, most people wait at least two hours before seeking help, which can lead to severe heart damage or death.

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