HealthONE - November 28, 2018

During the winter months, some people are at an increased risk of heart attack. Combined with the stress of the holiday season, this time of year often leads doctors to be more concerned about heart attacks for those at risk.

It’s important to think about your heart health during the holidays — whether someone has a history of heart disease, has one or more of the risk factors related to heart attacks, or has never displayed the signs or symptoms of a heart-related health condition. Here are five ways to prevent heart attacks throughout the holiday season and winter months:

Take steps to reduce or minimize stress

Stress might play a role in having a heart attack. According to the American Heart Association, stress may affect behaviors and factors that can increase one’s risk of heart disease, such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol, smoking, physical activity and overeating. More research is needed to determine the relationship between stress and heart disease, but it’s clear that constant stress could lead to a person developing diet and lifestyle choices that are bad for the heart, like smoking and not exercising. During the holidays, take steps to manage stress. Some people benefit from yoga, meditation or deep breathing exercises to reduce stress.

Don’t forget to take your medications

The holidays are a busy time, making it easier to forget your daily medication regimen. During the holiday season, some people neglect to take their medications on schedule, or skip doctor check-ups. People might also forget to bring their medications with them while traveling. If your doctor has prescribed medications for high blood pressure, cholesterol or a heart-related health issue, it’s imperative to take them as ordered and not skip dosages. If you are traveling, make sure you have enough pills until you return home.

Monitor your alcohol intake

Drinking excessively not only leads to a hangover, but can also be bad for your heart. When a person drinks more than one or two alcoholic beverages, this creates a lot of adrenaline, which can then lead to atrial fibrillation (an irregular heartbeat). When a person drinks too much and becomes dehydrated, their heart starts pounding, leading to atrial fibrillation. This buildup of adrenaline can lead to heart issues. The same triggers that cause atrial fibrillation can also cause a heart attack.

When attending a holiday party or family gathering, don’t drink on an empty stomach. Limit yourself to no more than one drink per hour and alternate drinks with water to stay hydrated. Or, cut out alcohol altogether by switching to sparkling water with lime or other mixers.

Be cautious when doing cold-weather activities

Winter activities, like shoveling snow or sledding, can increase a person’s stress hormone levels and blood pressure, which can then lead to a heart attack. In colder temps, your arteries constrict, which can also result in an increase in blood pressure and stress on the blood vessels.

If you’re engaging in physical activities outside in winter, make sure to dress warm and don’t do anything too strenuous or overexert yourself. Be mindful of the effect colder weather can have on the body and limit your time spent out in the cold.

Know the symptoms of a heart attack — and don’t ignore them

A heart attack can happen at any time, so it’s important to know the warning signs and symptoms before they occur. If a person is experiencing chest pain, discomfort, or shortness of breath, seek medical attention immediately. Don’t brush symptoms off or ignore them. When it comes to your heart, a “better safe than sorry” attitude can save your life.

HealthONE is Denver’s largest and most comprehensive network of cardiovascular services. Our multiple hospital locations across the Denver metro area allow us to serve many local communities and provide access to quality healthcare no matter where you live and work.

Heart disease strikes someone in the U.S. every 34 seconds and claims more lives than all forms of cancer combined. Find a cardiologist in Denver today!