Medical City Healthcare - November 13, 2020

The holidays are meant to be a time of relaxation and celebration. But for many, the holidays can be a time for increased health risks, many of which may be avoided if you’re aware of what to look for. Research shows that the number of heart attacks (and strokes) increases during December and January — a phenomenon doctors call “holiday heart” or “Christmas coronary.” This holiday season, the risks for having a heart attack or other heart event may be intensified by COVID-19. Here’s what you need to know about holiday heart risks during COVID-19 and how you can avoid them.

How healthy is your heart? Take the free Heart Risk Assessment

Holiday food and drink.

The phrases “quarantine 15” and “COVID 19” refer to the pounds that many of us have gained while practicing social isolation (and presumably, stress eating) during the pandemic. Consumption of alcoholic beverages has increased, too. The American Heart Association highlighted a Nielsen report showing that in-store sales of alcohol were up 54% in late March and online sales had spiked nearly 500% by late April.

And now we’re facing the holidays, when Americans gain 1 to 2 pounds (on average). Here are some actions you can take to keep from gaining weight and putting additional strain on your heart:

  • Stay away from rich foods and excessive amounts of sugar and salt; these can increase blood pressure and water retention
  • Enjoy alcohol in moderation: Anything that dehydrates your body or increases your state of stress, blood pressure or adrenaline can cause heart arrhythmias (abnormal heart rhythms) — even in otherwise healthy, young people, says Dr. Yoo, MD, a cardiologist on the medical staff at Medical City Healthcare
    • One glass of wine or one ounce of alcohol a day for most people is ok
    • If you have a heart condition, such as atrial fibrillation (AFib), be a little more cautious with alcohol and check with your doctor before drinking
    • If you’re going to drink alcohol, make sure you drink lots of water to stay hydrated

Seasonal stress.

This year, as we try to figure out how we can celebrate the holidays with loved ones and still stay safe, we may feel more anxious than normal. For those who are at higher risk for COVID-19 complications, including seniors and those with medical conditions or compromised immune systems, it has been particularly isolating and they may be feeling the added stress of preparing to spend the holidays alone.

Anxiety can cause increased levels of stress hormones, which in turn can raise blood pressure, heart rate and the body’s inflammatory response. These can all contribute to heart attacks and stroke.

Follow these tips (and share them with your loved ones) to help lower stress and anxiety during the holidays:

  • Keep taking all medications that your doctor has prescribed and make sure to get a flu shot if you haven’t already: CareNow Urgent Care clinics offer fast, convenient flu shots
    • Flu and your heart: A New England Journal of Medicine study found that heart attacks are 6 times more likely to happen in the 7 days following a flu diagnosis
  • Exercise your body and your mind regularly and get outside when you can
  • Stick to a healthy diet and get to/maintain the weight that’s right for you
  • Get plenty of sleep — 7 to 9 hours for most adults
  • Watch what you watch: Avoid doomscrolling through sad or depressing news
  • Pay attention to your mental health and ask for help if you need it
  • Stay connected to others virtually if you can’t be there in person
  • Check the CDC’s website for the latest guidance on holiday celebrations and small gatherings

Don’t delay getting medical care.

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to delay or even avoid getting emergency care (as well as preventive healthcare). Data shows that the number of patients coming in to emergency rooms for time-sensitive conditions such as heart attacks and stroke has decreased, not because there are fewer cases but because people are fearful of the virus.

Time-sensitive conditions rely on fast treatment in order to provide the most benefit to patients. In heart attacks, more heart muscle is likely to be damaged the longer treatment is delayed — potentially causing heart failure, arrhythmias and death. The faster you can recognize symptoms of a heart attack and call 911 or get to the ER for treatment, the better your chances are for survival and minimized heart damage.

Learn more about extra precautions Medical City Healthcare hospitals are taking to keep patients safe and why COVID-19 shouldn’t delay emergency care.

Myocarditis: A potential side effect of COVID-19.

One potential side effect of COVID-19 is myocarditis — inflammation of the heart muscle that is primarily caused by viral infections such as COVID-19. It’s important to keep this in mind, especially as you head into the holidays, because it would be so easy to attribute some of the symptoms of myocarditis to holiday hustle, bustle and stress.

If you or a loved one has these symptoms or has had COVID-19 or been exposed to it and has these symptoms, seek medical attention right away:

  • Fatigue, decreased ability to exercise and perform daily activities
  • Shortness of breath, especially after exercise or when lying down
  • Chest pain or pressure
  • Lightheadedness
  • Swelling in the extremities
  • Sudden loss of consciousness

Testing for myocarditis requires only a simple blood test. Getting a flu shot can help protect you from influenza, another viral infection that can also lead to myocarditis.

At Medical City Healthcare, we’re dedicated to the care and improvement of human life. So, we hope you’ll Take Care!

For more information, call our Ask a Nurse hotline 24/7 or use Find a Doctor online.

You can also get care for minor injuries or illness at CareNow Urgent Care or visit Medical City Virtual Care for non-emergency medical treatment from your computer or smartphone.

Sign up for the Take Care E-Newsletter