Tis the season for high risk heart trouble on Christmas Eve

Imagine this…

You’re at home in a plush robe and warm slippers. Bing Crosby’s crooning “White Christmas” from your speakers, and there’s a fire glowing in the fireplace.

You have a cup of hot cocoa in one hand and a roll of wrapping paper in the other. It’s Christmas eve and you’re getting ready for the Christmas festivities that await you tomorrow.

You’re just about to tackle the pile of unwrapped presents beside you when you feel tightness in your chest — like a clenched fist. Your arm hurts too.

You sit down, thinking the feeling will pass in a few seconds. But it doesn’t, and now you feel lightheaded and you’re breaking into a cold sweat. You’re having a heart attack on Christmas Eve.

It may seem like an unfortunate coincidence. But the sad fact is, holiday heart attacks are more common than you’d ever imagine…

More likely to strike on Christmas Eve

Researchers at Lund University in Sweden uncovered some alarming facts about holiday heart attacks…

Did you know, for example, that heart attack risk rises 37 percent on Christmas Eve?

Or that it’s 29 percent higher on Christmas Day?

Even the day after Christmas (known as Boxing Day in England, Canada and other former British territories) comes with a heightened heart attack risk of 21 percent.

And New Year’s Day isn’t safe either. Heart attack risk is 20 percent higher then. (It isn’t higher on New Year’s Eve, though, strangely enough.)

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Lund University researchers figured all this out after examining 16 years’ worth of hospital statistics that included 283,014 cases of holiday heart attacks.

And this isn’t the first time scientists have connected the holidays to heart problems. A 2004 paper published in the journal Circulation found that deaths from all sorts of heart disease are higher on Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Researchers don’t know why people have a higher risk of holiday heart attacks. But they have one guess…


People are stressed this time of year. And previous research shows that negative feelings like anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and stress raise heart attack risk.

Managing negative emotions during the holidays

The theory that stress causes holiday heart attacks is just that…a theory. Still, it makes sense to manage negative emotions during the holidays not just for your heart sake…

Stress, anger, grief and other negative emotions take a toll on every aspect of your physical and mental health, not just your ticker. So, take these feelings seriously, and do what you can to get them under control.

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Here are a few simple ways to feel happy and bright instead of frazzled and down during the holidays:

  • Give yourself downtime. Sometimes, the holidays feel stressful because they’re so busy. As you’re filling your schedule with parties, shopping and holiday events, make sure to schedule plenty of downtime where you can be alone and relax. You may not be able to participate in as many holiday festivities, but you’ll enjoy the events you do participate in more because you’ll feel relaxed, not overburdened.
  • Keep up with healthy habits. A lot of people abandon healthy habits during the holidays. They stop exercising. They eat tons of sugar and processed foods. But this only makes stress worse. Exercising is one of the best de-stressors. And sugar and processed foods are known contributors to anxiety and depression. So, keep taking care of yourself during the time of the year you need it most.
  • Focus on what’s important. We feel most stressed during the holidays when we lose sight of what’s important. Maybe we’re stressed because we can’t find the right presents for loved ones. Or because we’re worried about money. Or because you want to throw the perfect holiday party. In the end, none of that stuff really matters. Focus on having fun and enjoying family. That’s all that truly matters this time of year…or any time of year. So, remind yourself daily that material things and perfection are pointless, while connection and enjoyment are what makes life worthwhile.

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  1. On Christmas Eve, Santa delivers presents—and a few extra heart attacks — MedicalXpress
  2. Warning Signs of a Heart Attack — American Heart Association
  3. Stress, depression and the holidays: Tips for coping — Mayo Clinic
Jenny Smiechowski

By Jenny Smiechowski

Jenny Smiechowski is a Chicago-based freelance writer who specializes in health, nutrition and the environment. Her work has appeared in online and print publications like Chicagoland Gardening magazine, Organic Lifestyle Magazine, BetterLife Magazine, TheFix.com, Hybridcars.com and Seedstock.com.