AARP Eye Center
For most of us, the holidays are a time of celebration. But along with all the roasted ham and spiked eggnog, there’s a very real health concern: holiday heart syndrome.
“Around this time every year, symptoms of heart disease, including actual heart attacks, increase,” says Nieca Goldberg, M.D., medical director of Atria NYC and a clinical associate professor of medicine at New York University. In fact, the number of heart-related deaths in the U.S. increases by about 4 percent during the December and New Year holidays, according to a 2016 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. A 2018 analysis published in the British Medical Journal found that the risk of having a heart attack is about 37 percent higher on Christmas Eve, with people over the age of 75 and those with chronic health conditions such as heart disease or diabetes at greater risk.
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“During December, people take holiday from taking care of their health, which isn’t good for their hearts,” Goldberg says.
Why the holidays are harmful
This time of year can be so tough on your ticker for a few reasons. They include:
- Stress. Whether it’s the bustle of holiday travel, or feeling financially overstretched from shopping for gifts, this time of year can put a lot of strain on your body. “When you’re stressed, your brain produces more stress hormones such as cortisol which are bad for heart health,” says Donald Lloyd-Jones, M.D., chair of the Department of Preventive Medicine at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago. In fact, people with high levels of cortisol are five times more likely to die of a heart attack or stroke, even if they don’t already have heart disease, according to research published in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism.