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Increased risk of heart attacks at Christmas

December 2018

Elderly man helping decorate tree
Christmas can be a time of stress as well as fun

This is not what we want to hear in the fun and busy lead up to Christmas…but evidently for anyone at risk of heart problems, this is the most dangerous time of year.

It seems that Christmas Eve is the most common day of the year to suffer a heart attack, and the risk peaks at 10pm on the night before Christmas, where a recent study shows there is a 37 per cent increased risk of heart attack.

The research has been carried out by the respected Karolinska Institute in Stockholm and reported in the British Medical Journal.

The study analysed over 280,000 heart attacks which occurred over a 16-year-old period and found that heart attacks peaked at 10pm on December 24th. Interestingly Christmas Day appears a little safer although still a dangerous time with a 29 per cent increased risk. Boxing Day and New Year’s Day are also dates which showed a higher risk, up by 20 per cent.

One small thing to be aware of in this report is that most of the people involved in the study where Swedish, where the main Christmas celebrations take place on Christmas eve rather than Christmas day. But nevertheless it is a good indication of how special events can affect our health.

Christmas can always be a stressful time; with family arrangements, loneliness, sorting out gifts and food all adding to the load over the Christmas period. As one ages, these aspects can become more acute and the study emphasized that the risk was greatest in the over 75s and for people with existing diabetes and heart disease.

The study emphasizes there is a need for society to be aware of this problem over the Christmas period.

Any anxiety, stress, grief of anger can be a trigger and an American psychologist, Nicholas Joyce from the University of South Florida, has put together three steps to help avoid those family arguments or disputes that happen so often during the Christmas period.

He says people should look at the “let it go” process which involves three steps:

  • Notice and allow an experience to be there
  • Decide if the experience is useful or not
  • If useful, do something about it, if not, let it go

This can be translated into many situations. For instance, when someone gets concerned about their grandchild’s eating habits starts, instead of getting cross, the emotional aspect should be put aside and instead the grandparent should consider first whether commenting on the situation will help and bring a result or whether it will just create bad feeling.

There is no one simple answer to avoiding stress at Christmas, but being aware of the health risks is a great incentive to keep calm and relaxed during the festive season.

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