According to a not-so holly jolly study from Lund University in Sweden, your risk of having a heart attack increases 20 percent on New Year's day. Worse: It's a staggering 37 percent on Christmas Eve...specifically at 10 p.m.
For the study, researchers analyzed data from the SWEDEHEART registry, and gathered information on 283,014 heart attacks that occurred between 1998 and 2013—a pretty reliable sample size.
But why so many heart attacks during the holidays? Is it all the Christmas cookies? Eggnog? Overindulging in warm and delicious comfort foods?
No, it's not. The problem is actually the stress that often accompanies the holiday season, with things like jet lag, being with family members who may stress you out, changes in routine, and drinking more than usual.
It's no secret that stress is awful for your health, and significantly increases your chance of having a cardiac event.
“There’s been a lot of research showing that any kind of stressful event happening at national scale increases risk of heart attack,” says Dr. Christopher Kelly, a cardiologist at Columbia University Medical Center.
Plus, "strong emotions and lots of stress increases activity in a brain region called the amygdala," Men's Health reports, which is "associated with inflammation in the arteries (which supply the heart muscle with blood) and, down the road, risk of cardiovascular disease and heart-related events."
“Short-term risk of heart attack is higher when experiencing stressors,” Kelly adds.
Elaborating a little more on the "drinking more than usual" bit, enjoying a drink or two is actually good for you, but getting ho-ho-hammered significantly increases your risk of having a heart attack, as well as something called atrial fibrillation, also known as "holiday heart."
Atrial fibrillation can lead to fatal blood clots, and symptoms include fast or irregular heartbeat, feeling like your heart is skipping beats, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
“Anyone who has these symptoms needs to hurry up and seek medical attention,” Kelly says. “It’s a situation where every minute counts.”
Further risk factors for atrial fibrillation are smoking, high cholesterol, diabetes, and being overweight, all of which can cause plaque to build up and harden in your arteries. And those plaques are downright dangerous.
“Stress can rip the roof off of a plaque and the plaque can cause a blood clot that blocks off the artery,” Kelly explains. This, my friends, translates to a heart attack. “Acute stress lights the fuse that sets the final event in motion."
With that said, to make it through the holidays without any ER visits, drink in moderation, try to keep jet lag in check, and don't let any of the bullshit from your family members get to you.
Here's to a happy, healthy holiday season for everyone.