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Trending Science: Is Christmas Eve deadly?

Study says that Christmas Eve comes with a potentially fatal health risk.

Health

For some, Christmas can be a time of stress, not joy and cheer. Research published in the peer-reviewed ‘British Medical Journal’ claims that Christmas Eve increases the risk of a heart attack. “The main findings in our study were that traditional holidays were associated with the risk of heart attack,” Dr David Erlinge, head of cardiology at Sweden’s Lund University, told the United Kingdom’s ‘Telegraph’. “The peak is very pronounced exactly on Christmas Eve and the following two days, so, I think it is something specific for the way we celebrate these holidays.” Dr Erlinge, who led the study, explained the main reasons why we’re more at risk. “We do not know for sure but emotional distress with acute experience of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, and stress increases the risk of a heart attack. Excessive food intake, alcohol, long distance travelling may also increase the risk.” He added: “Interestingly, the pattern of increased risk in the morning which dominates the rest of the year was reversed at Christmas, with an increased risk in the evening, indicating that the stress and eating during the day triggered the heart attacks. People could avoid unnecessary stress, take care of elderly relatives with risk of heart problems and avoid excessive eating and drinking.” ’Twas the night before Christmas: a real killer The Swedish researchers found that the risk of a potentially fatal heart attack peaks by about 37 % at around 22:00 on 24 December, particularly for older and sicker people. They analysed the exact timing of 283 014 heart attacks reported to the Swedish coronary care unit registry from 1998 to 2013. The risk of heart attack was the highest in people over 75, and those with existing diabetes and heart disease, which the researchers said stresses the need for more awareness about the issue and the potential causes of stress. Overall, there was a 15 % increased risk over the Christmas period. The findings also show the risk to be higher on Monday mornings around 08:00. It fell slightly during Easter and major sports events such as the World Cup. Even though it’s one of the largest studies to evaluate the risks and dangers of the holidays, and the largest investigation carried out using heart attack data from national records, the authors caution that it’s an “observational study”. They didn’t draw any firm conclusions about cause and effect. Dr Erlinge gives some unscientific advice for the festive season: eat sensibly, drink responsibly, and look after our elders and feeble loved ones. “People need to be aware of the increased cardiovascular risk associated with emotional distress and excessive food intake that may occur during large holidays and we also need to care more about our elderly and sicker friends and relatives.”

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