’Tis the season for heart disease? Several medical studies have unwrapped findings suggesting that during the holiday season — typically from Thanksgiving to New Year’s Day — hospital visits tend to increase for various reasons, including cardiovascular conditions.
For instance, a 2018 study found that the Christmas and New Year season was associated with a higher risk of heart attacks, particularly in older, sicker patients. According to another study published in 2016, Christmas time was also associated with an increased number of hospital admissions for heart failure compared to other times of the year.
Cardiovascular experts believe that overindulgence may play a role.
“Indulging on foods during the holidays can exacerbate many health conditions,” says Dr. Bryant Nguyen, cardiologist affiliated with Sharp Grossmont Hospital. “For instance, for people living with diabetes, excess snacking and large meals can raise blood sugar levels, and the weight gain associated with holiday indulgence can push pre-diabetic patients into developing diabetes mellitus.”
Have high blood pressure? Dr. Nguyen adds that patients with hypertension should be mindful of salty foods. Along with sugary foods, which are characteristic of holiday fare, consuming these foods can raise blood pressure to dangerous levels.
In addition to overeating, drinking too much alcohol can also trigger heart problems, often referred to as “holiday heart syndrome.” Holiday heart syndrome, which causes arrhythmias (irregular heartbeats), can occur in both healthy people and those with existing cardiovascular conditions. Treatment depends on the health of the patient, but may include a watch-and-wait approach, medications or using an electric shock to the heart to restore a normal heartbeat.
Heart-healthy holiday tips
So how can you avoid holiday health issues? Moderation and careful planning are key. It is important to plan ahead when attending parties or other gatherings, especially if you have an existing cardiovascular condition.
Dr. Nguyen offers these tips to avoid overindulging during the holiday season:
- Limit your holiday snacks to healthy vegetables, nuts and lean meats.
- Avoid large meals and eat healthy foods throughout the day before attending a party or event.
- Focus on portion control and set a good example for kids and younger adults, while also taking care of your own health.
- Limit yourself to one or two alcoholic drinks, if you drink at all.
The stresses surrounding the holidays can also be taxing on the heart. While the stresses are unavoidable, especially when we are in a rush to shop and entertain guests, all while still trying to manage our workday lives, there are ways to reduce them.
Dr. Nguyen offers these tips to reduce stress:
- Try to limit the holiday hustle and bustle by delegating tasks and staying organized.
- Participate in a physical activity such as playing a sport or group activity with friends instead of staying indoors on the couch. Going for a walk also provides overall health benefits.
- Take time to just savor the holidays and get plenty of sleep.
“I usually see stress manifesting as extreme fatigue or overindulgence,” says Dr. Nguyen. “I think it’s important that people recognize that staying healthy over the holidays takes effort, but it pays off to be able to enjoy your time with your family and friends without being exhausted. I would also recommend keeping the emphasis on enjoying time with loved ones. And by staying healthy, you’ll be able to enjoy many more years of holiday cheer with them.”
For the news media: To talk with Dr. Nguyen about holiday heart syndrome for an upcoming story, contact Erica Carlson, senior public relations specialist, at email@example.com.