DEAR MAYO CLINIC: Is it true that heart attacks are more common around the holidays? If so, why is that? What can people do to lower their risk?
ANSWER: Heart attacks, along with heart problems in general, are more common around the holidays. Various factors can play into this, including stress, travel, changes in diet and disrupted schedules. Fortunately, many self-care steps can help keep your heart healthy.
One of the biggest challenges this time of year is healthy eating. For people with heart problems, choosing a heart-healthy diet amid an abundance of holiday foods can be daunting. But not straying too far from your normal diet is important.
Keep portion sizes reasonable and limit fatty foods. Eating too much can lead to chest pain or shortness of breath in some people with heart problems. Drink small amounts of alcohol, if any, as alcohol can raise your risk for heart rhythm problems and heart attack. Men should not drink more than two alcoholic beverages a day. Women should not have more than one.
Watch the amount of salt, or sodium, you consume. If your heart pumping function is reduced or if you have heart failure, your ability to manage fluid and to process salt is diminished. To limit fluid retention in such cases, a low-salt diet is often recommended. Controlling salt can be hard, however, when you eat out or dine at someone else’s home. Ask the cook if he or she might limit the amount of salt added. Find out which foods are lower in salt. Limit gravies and sauces.
Travel and schedule changes also can be barriers to heart health during the holidays. Staying on schedule with your medications can be hard when you switch time zones or when you are away from your daily routines. But taking your medication as prescribed is critical. Set up reminders to yourself or ask someone to help keep you on track. If you are planning to travel to another time zone, ask your pharmacist if medication schedule changes are necessary.