Take Heart for the Holidays
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Take Heart for the Holidays 

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The following article written by Dr. Carl Hartman, a certified cardiologist practicing with Cardiovascular Associates, was featured in the Virginian-Pilot on Sunday, December 27, 2009. Dr. Hartman serves as the medical director of Cardiac Services at Sentara Heart Hospital.

The holiday season brings much to celebrate for people everywhere. And while this time of year marks celebrations for many, it can also be marked with stress, lack of attention to good eating habits and increased consumption of alcohol.

These holiday “activities” are almost certain to have an impact on personal health that can range from the addition of a few unwanted pounds, to much more serious health complications. In fact, a study published by Duke University in recent years showed that this time of year sees a marked increase in atrial fibrillation. Medical professionals often refer to this phenomenon as “Holiday Heart Syndrome.” Atrial fibrillation, commonly referred to as a fib, is a common arrhythmia of the heart that can make the heart beat too fast or irregular.

Several medical studies published in recent decades have presented information that links higher alcohol consumption to an increased risk of a fib. While moderate amounts of alcohol can benefit the heart, higher alcohol consumption (defined as three to five drinks per day or binge drinking) can cause irregularities in heart rhythms that often send people to the hospital.

So whether your holiday season has you reaching for another drink, a second helping of mashed potatoes or (with the rare Virginia snowstorm) the snow shovel, here are some tips for celebrating a safe and healthy holiday.

Don’t eat, drink and be merry…just be merry.
Holiday indulgence should be tempered with common sense and adherence to healthy habits. Try not to overeat, avoid significant alcohol consumption and keep up regular exercise and relaxation activities.

Yes Virginia, be careful of cold temperatures and snow related activity.
Cold weather can often play a role in cardiac events. Increased physical activity during cold weather (such as shoveling snow) significantly increases the workload on your heart, which can uncover previously unsuspected underlying heart trouble.

Patients with known heart disease need to be aware of this as well. Engaging in outdoor activity, especially when you are not used to physical activity in the cold weather is like double trouble for your heart.

Stress…what stress?
Learn to say no, don't overbook your social calendar. If family togetherness results in confrontations and differences of opinion, learn to walk away. Try to enjoy the meaning of holidays without overburdening yourself with unmanageable expectations.

Don’t try to be a hero.
According to the American Heart Association, people are often unsure and wait too long before getting help for a suspected heart attack. Here are signs that can mean a heart attack is happening:

Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.

Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.

Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.

Breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If you or a loved one suspect a heart attack, the best course of action is to call 9-1-1 immediately. Patients should not transport themselves to a hospital for care. Local emergency medical personnel are specially trained and equipped to deal with a range of medical emergencies.

When someone is suffering a heart attack, time is critical. Calling 911 is almost always the fastest way to get lifesaving treatment. EMS staff can begin treatment when they arrive — up to an hour sooner than if someone gets to the hospital by car. This means and increased survival rate for patients.

Put your health first throughout the holiday season. Stay safe and take the necessary steps to enjoy the holidays and start the New Year off well.


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