We tend to overdo it during the holidays, and for some of us it may cause extra stress on the heart.
There’s even a name for this phenomenon: “holiday heart.”
Heart problems common during holidays
Richard Krasuski, MD, is a cardiologist at Cleveland Clinic. He says he sees an increase in cardiovascular events this time of year for a number of reasons.
- ‘Holiday heart’ syndrome. If you don’t typically drink, but have a few at a holiday party — or if you binge drink — it could cause an irregular heartbeat, or what is known as “holiday heart.” Add this to all the overeating we do during the holidays and you have a recipe for cardiac effects. Irregular heartbeat (atrial fibrillation) increases the risk of stroke, heart attack and heart failure.
- Stress and depression. “Stress can impact the heart,” says Dr. Krasuski. “For people suffering from depression this can be a very difficult, traumatic period of time for them, particularly those that are alone or those that don’t have extended families.”
- Overexertion. Shoveling snow could trigger a heart attack, especially if you have coronary artery disease. Dr. Krasuski says signs of trouble include chest discomfort that does not go away. You may also feel short of breath or your heart may start racing.
More symptoms of heart attack
Other heart attack symptoms to watch for along with chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heartbeat include:
- Pain or discomfort in other areas of the upper body including the arms, left shoulder, back, neck or jaw
- Sweating or cold sweat
- Fullness, indigestion, choking feeling
- Nausea or vomiting
- Light-headedness, dizziness, extreme weakness or anxiety
Symptoms for women may be different: they may notice a symptom a month or more before a heart attack along with other differences.
Check your pulse
Beyond being on the alert for symptoms, Dr. Krasuski says you should know how to take your own pulse.
“Take two fingers, put them over your radial artery, which is by your thumb, and press gently,” says Dr. Krasuski. “Count the number of beats for 15 seconds and then multiply by 4. If you feel your rate racing significantly (well over 100 beats a minute) and you’re at rest — obviously that’s not such a good thing.”
Don’t let holiday spirit stop you from getting help
The problem is that many times people put off seeing the doctor until after the holidays, not wanting to put a damper on the festivities.
But if you start to experience the symptoms listed above, especially if you have cardiovascular disease — see a doctor right away.