Heart attacks more frequent during the holiday season

While previous research in the U.S. has tied the winter holiday season to an increased risk of heart attacks, this research suggested the possibility winter — when temperatures are cold and mortality is at its peak — could be a critical component of this uptick in risk. However, new research from the University of Melbourne in Australia suggests temperature may not be as significant a factor in increased heart attack during the holidays risk as previously thought.

For the study, published in the Journal of the American Heart Association, researchers examined more than two decades worth of New Zealand death records involving heart attacks between Christmas and the first week of January, which is summer in the southern hemisphere. Analysis revealed a 4.2 percent increase in heart-related deaths occurring out of hospital during this time period. Additionally, heart attack victims tended to be younger for this swath of time as well. The average age of cardiac death was 76.2 years during the holiday period and 77.1 years for the rest of the year.

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Researchers suggested many factors could contribute to this increase in heart attack risk, including emotional stress, changes in diet and alcohol consumption. Also, patients might hold back on seeking care during the holiday season.

"The Christmas holiday period is a common time for travel within New Zealand, with people frequently holidaying away from their main medical facilities," said Josh Knight, lead author and researcher at the Centre for Health Policy at the University of Melbourne. "This could contribute to delays in both seeking treatment, due to a lack of familiarity with nearby medical facilities, and due to geographic isolation from appropriate medical care in emergency situations."

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