December Deadlier for Heart Attacks

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December is a particularly deadly month for heart attacks, a new study shows.

That may be all the more reason to make your heart’s health a top priority starting now, before the hustle and bustle of the winter holidays set in.

The new heart attack study included nearly 128,000 people aged 65 and older who had been hospitalized for a heart attack between January 1994 and February 1996.

More of those heart attack patients hospitalized in December died within 30 days than those hospitalized during any other month, write the researchers. They included Trip Meine, MD, of Duke University.

The study appears in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Reasons Unclear

About 22 percent of heart attack patients hospitalized in December died within 30 days, compared with about 20 percent of those hospitalized in other months.

Why was December worst for heart attack deaths? Was it due to the emotional stress of the holidays, vacationing doctors, or treatment trends?

The answers aren’t known yet. More studies should be done, write Meine and colleagues.

They considered lots of factors about the patients, hospitals, and doctors in the study. No culprit stood out. Treatment types weren’t any different in December either, the researchers found.

The Best Time for Treatment

The best time to get treated for a heart attack has nothing to do with your calendar. All year long, it’s essential to get immediate medical help at the first sign of a possible heart attack.

In Meine’s study, most hospitalized heart attack patients survived, no matter when their heart attacks struck. The sooner heart attack treatment can start, the better. So take a moment to review the warning signs of a heart attack.

Remember, heart attacks don’t always strike with chest-clutching drama. Also, keep in mind that heart disease (which includes heart attacks) is a leading cause of death for men and women alike.

Possible heart attack symptoms listed by the American Heart Association (AHA) include:

—Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness, or pain in the center of your chest.

—Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, your back, neck, stomach, or jaw.

—Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

—A cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

Avoiding Heart Attacks

You can take steps to help prevent a heart attack. The AHA offers these heart-friendly tips:

—Don’t smoke.

—Avoid other people’s tobacco smoke.

—Find out if you have high blood pressure. If you do have high blood pressure, treat it.

—Eat foods that are low in saturated fat, cholesterol, and salt.

—Be physically active.

—Keep your weight under control.

—Get regular medical checkups.

—Take any prescribed medicine as directed.

—Control your blood sugar if you have diabetes.

Regarding physical activity, the CDC recommends that adults get at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity five days a week. Get your doctor’s approval first.

By Miranda Hitti, reviewed by Louise Chang, MD

SOURCES: Meine, T. Annals of Internal Medicine, Oct. 4, 2005; vol 143: pp 481-485. American Heart Association: “What Are the Warning Signs of a Heart Attack?” CDC: “Physical Activity for Everyone: Recommendations.” News release, American College of Physicians.