Heart attack deaths spike over the holidays

December 15, 2004 in Heart Health, Nutrition Topics in the News

Heart attack deaths spike over the holidays

Death rates from heart disease, as well as deaths from all other causes, are more common around Christmas and New Year's Day than other days of the year, U.S. researchers report. Researchers speculate it may be partly related to patients' reluctance to seek medical care during the holidays.

The researchers advised to not postpone getting medical care just because it's a holiday. In addition those who travel during the holiday season should investigate the medical resources available at their destination before leaving home.

A 1999 study found that heart-related deaths in Los Angeles County were more common during the winter months of December and January. The research team conducted a study to determine whether the increased number of winter deaths is related to the holiday season. To this end, they examined death certificates of 53 million Americans who died from 1973 to 2001. Overall, there were "distinct spikes" in both heart- and non-heart related deaths around Christmas and New Year's.

What's more, the number of deaths occurring around the holidays "gradually increased" during the 26-year study period.

The reason for the holiday-related spike in deaths could not be explained by factors such as respiratory diseases, holiday-associated emotional stress or changes in diet or alcohol drinking, study findings indicate. The increase in deaths over the holidays may be partly due to patients' tendencies to delay seeking medical care until after the holiday season, the researchers speculate.

Another possible explanation is staffing changes that typically occur during the holiday season, including scheduling changes for doctors, nurses, pharmacists and even health insurance personnel. Vigorous research is needed to determine if such changes "reduce the quality of medical care.

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