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Doctors says heart attacks spike during holidays

The holidays are stressful and it can lead to what doctors call "Holiday Heart Syndrome."

Some doctors say they see more heart attacks on Christmas Day than any other time of the year. 

Dr. M. Nicholas Burke, who specializes in interventional cardiology with Allina Health, says holidays are stressful which can lead to what he calls "Holiday Heart Syndrome."

"It is not just your mom, everyone has stress during the holidays. There are all sorts of families and extremely high expectations as to how great your holiday should be," Burke said. "At times of stress like that, people have more illnesses but particularly cardiovascular illnesses.More heart attacks happen on Christmas day more  than on any other day of the year. Christmas day you would think that people are being happy and all of that stuff but there are a lot of aspects to that." 

Dr. Burke says some over-indulge on food, sweets and alcohol. Others are overwhelmed by a list filled with holiday parties, shopping and a desire to please friends and family. 

"People who otherwise would seek medical attention are not going to the doctor when they know that they should. They don't want to wreck Christmas," he said. "They don't want to draw attention to themselves. They put off getting the health care that they should be getting."

The Journal of American Heart Association shows in a report from 2016, a "Christmas holiday effect" on mortality was established in the United States, with spikes in deaths from natural causes at both Christmas and New Year's Day. The report says, "in the United States, however, the Christmas holiday period coincides with the coldest period of the year, when mortality rates are already seasonally high because of low temperatures and influenza." 

Dr. Burke said people with high blood pressure, strong family history of heart disease, smokers, diabetics and high cholesterol are most at risk. 

Burke, who is working this holiday season, recommends slowing down and ignore the pressure of trying to get everyone a gift. 

"The biggest Christmas present I can give someone is to stop a heart attack," he said. "Hopefully I won't have to this year."