Heart attacks and cardiac problems increase during the winter months, so don’t ignore the signs even if it is Christmas, says Dr James Cockburn, consultant cardiologist at The Montefiore Hospital in Hove.
“Cold weather, over-eating, binge drinking, unusual exertion or getting too hot can all lead to chest pains, particularly in people who already have a high risk of coronary heart disease.
Although Christmas itself doesn’t cause heart attacks, the activities and habits we adopt at this time of year can put a strain on the heart.
The main risk factors for cardiac disease are divided in to two groups: non-modifiable risks such as a genetic predisposition to heart attack at a young age; and modifiable risks such as smoking, obesity, high blood pressure, high cholesterol levels, and physical inactivity. The more risks you have, the higher the chance of developing heart disease. So, if you smoke, are overweight, and inactive all year round, that Christmas day family walk in the cold after a heavy dinner and several good bottles of wine might not be such a good idea if you are not prepared…...”
Cold weather: The cold causes the blood vessels to constrict, making your heart work harder, so wrap up if you’re going outside. Several thin layers can help keep you warmer than one thick layer. A lot of heat is lost from your head, so wear a hat and scarf.
Increased activity: If you are sedentary all year round, start slowly. Choose a short flat Christmas walk with beautiful scenery rather than a hilly hike. If you are playing with the kids or grandchildren take short breaks, and don’t be tempted to go too crazy or get competitive when trying out their new games.
Food and alcohol: Everything in moderation is the answer. Decide on your own personal boundaries before the festivities get underway, such as not having second helpings of Christmas pud or avoid putting the tin of sweets out in full view. Binge drinking and too much caffeine can trigger an increase in heart disturbances even in healthy people.
Don’t ignore the signs: Even if you are in the middle of a once-a-year family game of Charades or Twister, don’t ignore symptoms of chest discomfort. When you speak to patients at 2am following their emergency stent to treat their heart attack they often say they thought the symptoms were indigestion or had taken two paracetamols and gone to bed presuming it will get better in the morning. Most often patients have symptoms prior to the event which they ignore….
Symptoms not to be ignored - Seek medical help if you have:
Chest tightness during exertion that can radiate to the neck, jaw and arms, that is relieved by resting. (It can feel like someone sitting on your chest)
This is angina and if left untreated can lead to heart attack.
Dr James Cockburn is a consultant cardiologist at The Montefiore Hospital in Hove which now offers a rapid access chest pain service.
For more information, visit www.themontefiorehospital.co.uk or phone 01273 828 148.