By Iosif Kelesidis, MD, MSc
Premier Heart and Vascular Center, Wesley Chapel

This month we’re bringing attention to the increased occurrence of heart attacks around the holidays. In our previous piece, we discussed the most common symptoms of a heart attack you need to watch out for, so now let’s explore the most common causes.

The winter holiday season has been proven by many studies to increase your risk for cardiac-related death in the United States. Let’s start by taking a closer look at the condition that leads to most heart attacks.

Acute Coronary Syndrome (ACS)

ACS is the most common precursor of heart attacks. It occurs when atherosclerotic plaque in a coronary artery ruptures, which causes a blood clot to start forming at the site of the rupture.

When this happens, you can expect one of two possible incidences:

  • If the artery is partly blocked, then a partial heart attack occurs, or unstable angina.
  • If the clot completely blocks the artery, then a complete heart attack will happen.

Both instances are medical emergencies, and treatment is entirely necessary. If you don’t get help, heart damage or even death can occur.

ACS happens only when something triggers it, i.e., speeds up the rupture of the aforementioned plaque. As you can probably guess, the holidays are filled with these ACS triggers.

The Most Common Causes of Heart Attacks

Before listing the triggers for ACS that are most common during the winter holidays, let’s make sure to cover the most common causes of heart attacks, as these can lead to a heart attack at any time of the year. What’s more, researchers have proven that one or more of these are the leading causes of heart attacks in 90 percent of cases.

  • Abnormal levels of LDL ‘bad’ cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Higher levels of stress
  • Obesity
  • A sedentary lifestyle with too few physical activities
  • Very low vegetable and fruit intake
  • Diabetes
  • Smoking
  • High alcohol intake

The ACS triggers we mentioned that tend to occur mostly around the winter holidays include:

  • Increased levels of emotional stress
  • A sudden sedentary lifestyle that’s very common during the winter
  • Sudden and unusual exertions (like shoveling snow and other physical activities during the holidays)
  • Increased exposure to cold weather
  • Winter-related illnesses that can create inflammatory changes in your blood vessels (influenza, in most cases)
  • Decreased exposure to natural light from the sun
  • High intake of food, alcohol and tobacco (most people overindulge in at least one of these during the winter holidays)

As you can see, most of these triggers are very common during the holidays. They may not necessarily lead to a heart attack, but they can certainly contribute to it.

It’s best to stay healthy and active during the holidays and strive towards moderation in eating and drinking. For any other information you might need, feel free to contact Premier Heart and Vascular Center.