6 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Heart Attacks - Wheaton Franciscan Healthcare

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6 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Heart Attacks

Good health and good cheer may not go hand in hand during the holidays. Overindulge in the “cheer,” and you could experience “holiday heart.”

Medical professionals see an increase in heart attacks surrounding Christmas and New Year’s activities.

Take these steps to have a happy heart:

  1. Don’t put off medical care. If you feel something isn’t right, seek medical help. “People tend to delay getting checked out or going to the doctor over the holidays,” said Peter Parrino, MD, Emergency Department Medical Director at Wheaton Franciscan – Midwest Spine and Orthopedic Hospital and Wisconsin Heart Hospital campus.
  2. Go easy on the toddies. “Alcohol is toxic, and if you overindulge, you may have heart rhythm issues that show up immediately or the next day,” said Dr. Parrino. Limit yourself to one or two drinks and have them earlier in the day. Go easy on the food, too.
  3. Leave superhero activities to the movies. Know your limits when shoveling, doing outdoor sports, moving heavy objects or other physical activities. Warm up before you get going, ask others for help, let family/friends know where you’ll be, and be aware of how your body feels.
  4. Avoid chestnuts roasting on an open fire. Wood burning fireplaces, stoves and bonfires release small particles similar to cigarette smoke. Inhaling the smoke can affect your breathing and strain your heart. Keep your distance.
  5. Just breathe. Or pray, reflect or do anything relaxing. Managing stress is very important. The stress of the holidays – preparation, family dynamics, and schedules – can bring on a heart attack, according to Dr. Parrino. Take care of yourself while you’re taking care of others.
  6. Know the symptoms of a heart attack and be prepared to act. If you recognize the signs in yourself or others, call 911. Getting help early can be crucial in minimizing the damage to your heart and body.

Signs and symptoms may include:

      • Chest discomfort. Most often in the center of the chest and lasting more than a few minutes. May also go away and come back. Discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
      • Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. In one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach. 
      • Shortness of breath. May occur before, with or without chest discomfort. 
      • Other signs. Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Women may experience a heart attack much differently and experience all or some of the following:

  • Chest discomfort, uncomfortable pressure, tightness, squeezing, and/or fullness. It may last for a few solid minutes or come and go.
  • Crushing chest pain
  • Pressure that spreads to jaw, neck, upper back, shoulders or arms.
  • Dizziness or nausea and vomiting
  • Stomach or abdominal pain  that may feel like indigestion
  • Shortness of breath / difficult breathing
  • Unexplained anxiety, fatigue or weakness - especially when active
  • Clammy sweating
  • Heart flutters
  • Pale skin

For more information about heart health, visit our Health Library.

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6 Tips for Avoiding Holiday Heart Attacks