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A “Christmas holiday effect” on heart health may be seen in any climate

Harold Mandel's picture

Heart-related deaths have been observed to spike at Christmas and so caution should be taken.


It's the holiday season and a time for families to get together and and have fun while enjoying a lot of good food. Unfortunately a lot of people aren't careful about their health during the holiday season and spikes in heart related deaths have been noted.

There are many heart related deaths seen during Christmas

The American Heart Association reports there are many heart related deaths seen during Christmas and this may overall not be due to the cold winter season. Josh Knight, B.Sc., the study author and a research fellow at the University of Melbourne in Australia, says it has been previously established that there are spikes in deaths due to natural causes during Christmas and New Year's Day in the United States.

Researchers investigated trends in deaths seen in New Zealand, where the Christmas season occurs during the summer season

Knight points out that the Christmas holiday period which is from December 25th to January 7th in the United States falls within the coldest period of time during the year. At this time death rates are generally increased because of low temperatures and influenza. So for this study researchers investigated trends in deaths seen in New Zealand, where the Christmas season occurs during the summer season at which time death rates are usually at a low for the season. In this way the researchers could separate any winter effect on death rates from a holiday effect which occurs.

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The researchers observed there was a 4.2 percent increase in heart associated deaths which occurred away from a hospital between December 25 -- January 7. The average age which was seen for cardiac death was 76.2 years during the Christmas season in comparison with 77.1 years seen during other times during the year.

Emotional stress is associated with the holidays

Many theories have been proposed to explain the spike in deaths seen during the Christmas holiday season. One consideration has been the emotional stress which is associated with the holidays. Another possibility is alterations in diet and alcohol consumption. Changes in the physical environment because of visits to family and friends could also be a factor. It should also be considered that medical facilities have less staff during the Christmas holiday season.

It has also been postulated that a possibility for an increased spike in deaths during the Christmas holiday season may be because patients hesitate to seek medical care during this time. Knight says there is a lot of travel during hte Christmas holiday period in New Zealand. During such travel people are generally taking holidays away from their primary medical facilities. Delays in seeking medical treatment could result from a lack of familiarity with medical facilities which are nearby and because of geographic isolation from good medical care during emergency situations.

Knight noted that New Zealand has island climate conditions. This just about completely eliminates the temperature extremes which have been found to be associated with heart associated death rates in past studies.

There is a “Christmas holiday effect” which shows increased cardiovascular mortality

This study has been published in the Journal of the American Heart Association. In the past there was a “Christmas holiday effect” seen in the United States which showed increased cardiovascular mortality during the Christmas holidays between December 25 and January 7.

By studying this situation in New Zealand where the Christmas holiday period is seen during the summer season the effect of seasonality could be separated from any holiday effect. It was concluded cardiac mortality is increased during the Christmas holiday period in a manner which is relative to the surrounding time periods. And so cardiac morality does not lessen during the summer season during Christmas holidays. You should therefore try to relax and take extreme caution in dealing with your heart health during the holidays whether you are in a cold or warm place.