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Heart Attacks Spike During Christmas And Holidays

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Phil Schermeister  Corbis  VCG via Getty Images

The paper was published in the Journal of the American Heart Association on December 22 and shows the results of the analysis of 26 years of data. People in this country experience their summer weather from December through February, but still celebrate Christmas on December 25, because the country was once an English colony.

A group of British researchers monitored the mortality rate of cardiac events in England a decade ago, and they concluded that there was no spike in heart attacks during Christmas, but there was one on New Year's Eve.

Using similar statistical methods as the previous USA study, the team calculated an "expected" number of deaths for each day of the year and compared it with the actual number of deaths. They also took their model and compared it against the actual deaths per day over the Christmas holidays, or a range of dates from December 25 through January 7.

For the current study, researchers analyzed death trends in New Zealand, where cardiac death rates tend to be lowest during the summertime in general.

During the 25-year study, the average age of cardiac death was 76.2 years during the Christmas period, compared with 77.1 years during other times of the year.

Every year during the Christmas season, heart-related deaths spike in the U.S.

This is now the third time the Christmas cardiac death effect has been measured in a different part of the world. Although more research is needed to explain the spike in deaths, the researchers suggested one possibility may be that patients hold back in seeking medical care during the holiday season. England, like the US, celebrates Christmas during wintertime.

The Australian National Health and Medical Research Council and the New Zealand Health Research Council funded the study. (Alcohol, by the way, has been identified as a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, or irregular heartbeat.) Furthermore, people often travel during the holidays, leaving less staff to work in medical facilities, and those who are sick might put off seeing the doctor until they're home again. The second theory is about "displacement of death" through sheer will - that people would actually either try to delay death or speed it up in consideration of a holiday date that is special to them.

Knight and colleagues used data from New Zealand, where Christmas occurs during the summer months and when death rates tend to be lower than at other times of the year.

Other causes that could increase the risk of dying of a heart attack during Christmas are the emotional stress associated with the season and changes in the diet and alcohol consumption, but researchers could not determine what is exactly behind the higher risk of having a heart attack during Christmas time.

The Christmas holiday period has always been linked to an increase in fatal heart attacks - but can festive indulging and annoying relatives really cause people to drop dead?

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