'Stuffing Your Face' Produces Heart Attacks

Heart attacks expected over holidays

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) If you're planning to overindulge in food or alcoholic beverages over the holidays, make sure you don't overlook or blow off what could be a serious heart problem.

Though emergencies occur year round, overindulgence around the Christmas holidays often results in patients mistaking more serious heart events for minor conditions such as indigestion or acid reflux.

"Head to the hospital immediately if you have chest pain."

Dr. Steven Polevoi, medical director at the University of California, San Francisco emergency department, said that individuals tend to delay care around the holidays. He noted they may have signs of cardiovascular disease such as abdominal or chest discomfort yet disregard it, thinking it is likely indigestion or from overeating.

Instead it could be cardiac ischemia, which happens when blood and oxygen flow to the heart is restricted and could result in a heart attack.

“You meet the patient and they tell you their story,” Dr. Polevoi said. “You say, ‘Why didn’t you come sooner?’ and they say, ‘Well, I was traveling or I was having a party.’ These can be subtle symptoms patients interpret as something other than a serious condition.”

Cardiac ischemia can further damage the heart if treatment is not received quickly because an insufficient blood supply could lead to other serious problems such as congestive heart failure or even death.

There often is a significant amount of damage to the heart if patients wait until it has become a heart attack to arrive at the emergency room.

Stress and eating too much can also contribute by making existing conditions worse.

Heart-related deaths increase by 5 percent during the holiday season, with fatal heart attacks peaking on Christmas, the day after Christmas and New Year’s Day, according to a national Circulation study published in 2004.

“The holidays are a time when we really increase the amount of salt and fat we eat. Most people don't notice the difference. However, there are certain people -- for example, those with heart failure -- for whom the slight increase in salt intake could result in big problems,” said Dr. Ameya Kulkarni, a cardiology fellow with the UCSF Division of Cardiology.

“And if your heart is already working hard to get oxygen because of narrowing of coronary arteries, then stress will tax your heart, and that demand for more oxygen could cause ischemia or even a heart attack.”

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
December 20, 2011
Last Updated:
December 21, 2011