I have been very conscious of my heart recently. Despite a significant weight loss that has put me in a normal weight range, and lowering my cholesterol down to well within normal limits, I have developed hypertension. I take my medication, and work hard to eat right, but the stress level in my life is high. I am working hard to manage that, too. I exercise every day. I rest quietly for an hour every day. I pray, which relaxes me tremendously. Still, I worry a lot, because of my family history of deaths due to heart disease.
Snippets I read and hear often do not help matters. Studies show that people, women especially, who have had heart attacks report that the felt tired in the weeks preceding their heart attacks, and also reported sleep disturbances prior to their heart attack. I asked my doctor what that meant–what feeling tired prior to a heart attack looked like. She shook her head and said, “If you ask a person who needs emergency surgery for an appendicitis or gallbladder if they experienced fatigue in the weeks preceding their surgery, they would say yes. If you asked people who break their legs if they’d felt tired, or had troubling sleeping prior, to breaking their leg, they would say yes. We’re all tired, and we all have bad nights with sleep. Now, let’s schedule you a cardiac stress test because your family history is scary.”
So, I have my appointment December 17th, for a cardiac stress test. Frankly, I cannot wait because I am sick of worrying every time I feel tired, or get heart burn, or have a crummy night’s sleep. I want something hard core and on EKG paper. I am sick to death of reading too much into all of these every day twinges, and I would also prefer not to drop dead. I am very thankful that my test comes before Christmas, because December 25th ranks #1 for heart attack deaths. Doctors call them Christmas coronaries, of Happy Hanukkah heart attacks, and I do not want that particular present.
No one is exactly certain why heart attacks peak on Christmas day, the #2 peak day being December 26, followed closely by January 1. It is likely a combination of stress, excess in food and beverage, and perhaps the cold, though people in warm and balmy states also have just has high of a rate of Christmas coronaries. What can a person with one or more risk factors, such as myself, do to lower the risk of a Happy Holidays heart attack? Here are a few tips that I plan to follow.
Stay Warm– I live in Montana, which is neither warn nor balmy in the winter. I try to walk 3-5 miles every day, and I do that outdoors. Cold weather and exertion put a great stain on the heart. The blood becomes thicker at lower temperatures, and clots form more easily. Shoveling snow is notorious to for producing heart attacks. Thankfully, I do not have to shovel snow, but I do need to be more mindful of proper dress outside. Of course, I am fully dressed, and in a winter coat and boats, but I often shun a hat and gloves. We have already seen days below zero, and on those days, I will drag out the exercise bike.
Stay Away From Smoke and Pollution--I live in a valley where smoke and smog settles in the winter. Tomorrow there is an air quality warming, despite the fact that no one is allowed to use a wood burning fireplace, or wood stove, within the city limits. We all know that cigarette smoke is bad, but really any smoke is bad for your heart, and that includes what you inhale when throwing another Yule log on the fire. Be mindful of smoke and pollution inside and out, and avoid it as much as possible. Last winter, I lived in a cottage that I heated almost exclusively with wood, and I have been missing that, but knowing what I know now, I am grateful for my gas furnace.
Low Stress Christmas– I am going to take good care of myself, if it kills me. I am not going to shop until I drop, worry about things that I cannot change, nor am I going to take on more than I can comfortably handle. I am a single mom with a special needs kid who works many different little jobs just to pay the bills. I am rather high strung, and very type A. I am going to work at staying calm, cool, and collected and I am going to ask for help.
Mindfulness When Eating-– I do not drink alcohol, so I have that going for me, and I am careful about my diet, but the holidays are the holidays, time of excess and overeating. Did you know that your risk for a heart attack goes up significantly after a high fat meal, and stay elevated for 6 to 8 hours after that meal? That is enough to scare me off gravy and my famous pumpkin cheesecake. I will eat extra yams instead, and enjoy my equally famous pumpkin or apple pie. We all make excuses about it being “just once a year,” but I do not want this to be my last year. At the same time, I plan to go extra easy on the salt. I am not one to crave salt, or salt my food at the table, but I love party mix as much as the next person. I am determined to stay away from the stuff this year.
Sometimes I worry so much about having a heart attack that I nearly have a panic attack which feels a lot like a heart attack. This can’t be good for me either. I know having a stress test will reduce many of my fears. I am not a hypochondriac by any stretch of the imagination. I just worry about my heart. If you have risk factors, with the holiday season upon us, you should worry too, and take good care of your heart. At the same time, do not forget that when it comes to saving a life when a heart attack occurs, every minute counts. If you feel anything that might signal a heart attack, call 911 immediately. No excuses.
The Truth Behind More Holiday Heart Attacks