Keeping your heart healthy amid holiday hustle and bustle

6abc Digital Staff Image
Wednesday, December 27, 2023
Keeping your heart healthy amid holiday hustle and bustle
Reducing stress and not going overboard on food and drink can help keep vulnerable people out of the hospital during the holidays.

PHILADELPHIA (WPVI) -- The hustle and bustle of the holidays can be fun.

However, it can also be risky for people vulnerable to heart problems.

And that resonates personally with a local cardiologist.

Dr. Deborah Crabbe of Temple Health's Heart and Vascular Center was a medical resident on a Christmas shopping scramble when she heard of her father's heart attack.

"It was about two days before Christmas Eve," Dr Crabbe recalls vividly.

A few years later, it happened again around Christmas.

"He took sick in his office in the Bronx," she says.

The two heart attacks may not have been a coincidence.

Statistics show the top three days for heart attacks are Christmas, December 26th, and New Year's Day, though heart attacks, in general, are more frequent in winter months.

Dr Crabbe notes that her dad later had a third and fatal heart attack, in February.

November to February is the peak for strokes.

The highest risk is to those over age 75, or who have diabetes, or have pre-existing heart conditions.

Dr. Crabbe says routines get disrupted, adding to the stress.

"It's very easy to get wrapped up in the holiday, and trying to get everything done," she says.

Too much heavy food, salt, caffeine, and alcohol can trigger "holiday heart," an irregular heartbeat or atrial fibrillation, especially in those who already have a-fib.

However, it can also happen in someone without heart disease.

For some, "holiday heart" feels like a pounding in the chest. For others, it can be shortness of breath or feeling tired or wiped out.

A-fib can lead to stroke, so holiday heart needs medical attention.

Dr. Crabbe urges patients to celebrate, but be vigilant.

"Make sure you take your meds if you have pre-existing conditions. Find time for decompression from your stress. You will get it done," she says.

"It's nice to have a cocktail or two and be social with your friends. But some people overextend themselves," she notes.

And when the winter snows come, have someone else do the shoveling.

The cold narrows arteries, raising blood pressure.

Lifting a heavy load multiplies the strain.

"Shoveling snow is the most strenuous activity you can do on your heart. So if you're not normally doing that, now's not the time to become Arnold Schwarzenegger," she warns.

The doctor says being up-to-date on flu and COVID vaccinations is also important. Respiratory illnesses, including colds, put stress on the heart.