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Dec 17, 2009 · Leave a Reply

Happy Holidays, Happy Heart

By Cynthia Nelson Weiss @cynthia nelson

Ah, the holidays a time when most people have added chaos in their lives. Between stressing over finances and the best gifts to buy, fighting traffic at the mall and packing the calendar with parties, it can be the complete opposite of comfort and joy. As a result, the holidays can take a toll on health problems, especially heart disease.

As an intern with Public Affairs, I recently helped organize an interview between one of Mayo Clinic’s Emergency Medicine physicians, Gretchen Lipke, M.D., and a local radio station. Dr. Lipke was sharing information about the rise in holiday-time heart attacks and stroke.

This is a time of year when people tend to stray from daily routines. They delay exercise and go off their diets. Those with health problems may shy away from seeing a doctor because they don’t want to disrupt the festivities. But sometimes, the problems can't be ignored.

Dr. Lipke mentioned several studies that report more people suffer from heart attacks and strokes during the holidays than any other time throughout the year. The biggest spikes are seen on Christmas Day and New Year's Day.

With all of the holiday parties and family gatherings, people tend to have more alcoholic beverages than normal. This can lead to "Holiday Heart"  a condition that may result in atrial fibrillation, an abnormal heart rhythm that can be spurred by binge drinking. Dr. Lipke told about a patient who was brought to Mayo Clinic's Emergency Department with chest pain after drinking three glasses of wine at an office party.

After hearing Dr. Lipke speak of these issues, I began to think that I could unknowingly become a victim of holiday heart. Perhaps some lifestyle changes were necessary.

I have a family history of cardiovascular disease. My maternal grandfather died at age 47 from a heart attack. And I was diagnosed with a heart murmur a few years ago. Although I try to watch my diet and exercise regularly, I still indulge in a glass of wine (or two or three) on occasion. I admit to taking it easy with the dieting and exercising during the holidays, too.

After listening to Dr. Lipke, I know I need to remain conscious of my diet and cut back on the alcohol. I like Dr. Lipke, but I don't want to ring in the New Year with her at the hospital.

For more on heart attack signs and symptoms of stroke, visit http://www.mayoclinic.org.

As Dr. Lipke advises, don't hesitate to call 911 or get medical attention if you have chest pain, arm pain or trouble swallowing or seeing. It's worth your life to interrupt the party.

The following was written by Cody DeSaulniers, an intern in the Public Affairs Department at Mayo Clinic's Florida campus.

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Tags: alcohol, heart & heart surgery, heart attack, holiday, stroke

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