‘Tis the Season to be Jolly Careful

Knitted heart decoration. Image by Stylva (CC BY 2.0)


For some, the festive season is a time of peace and relaxation. For others however, it can be a less-than-tranquil experience where families descend with copious tins of Quality Street, and what starts out as a pleasant game of Monopoly creates lifelong divisions.

Moreover, this year many will feel the strain due to very different reasons. From worrying about how to keep the house warm over the winter period to anxiously planning how to feed an entire family on a budget.

Coupled with the cold weather, this increased pressure can lead to elevated risk of stroke and heart attacks, particularly over the holidays but especially on Christmas Day and New Year’s Day [1].

A 2019 study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association attempted to investigate whether having a stroke during the Christmas season had an impact on mortality [2]. Researchers analysed Taiwan’s National Health Insurance Research Database and found that there was indeed a statistically significant “holiday season effect” influencing stroke mortality compared with weekday admissions.

The study highlighted the need for having robust healthcare services in place with the ability to provide immediate and consistent care for those who are admitted to A&E following a stroke. With this in mind, the already-understaffed nature of the NHS, as well as the planned upcoming strikes over low pay, patients are likely to face significant wait times resulting in negative outcomes for emergency cases such as strokes and heart attacks.

So, what can we do to prevent an unexpected interruption to our planned movie marathons … and how can we help avoid hospitalisation this winter?

Well, unfortunately, overindulgence is a key contributor to increased risk of a heart attack. A 2018 Swedish study published in the British Medical Journal found that on Christmas Eve alone, revelers’ risk of having a heart attack went up by 37%, peaking at around 10pm [3]. External triggers such as emotional stress and the demands to host the perfect Christmas for friends and family can also play a role in increasing blood pressure, one of the main risk factors for heart attacks and strokes.

Additionally, for those with existing conditions, forgetting to pick up prescriptions in between gift shopping could mean they don’t have enough essential medication to last through the holidays.

So, making some more slightly sensible choices, like cutting back on the bellini and having one slice of yule log instead of two, could make the difference between excitedly waiting for Santa at home or hoping he will stop by the hospital.


[1] https://newsnetwork.mayoclinic.org/discussion/holiday-heart-attacks-and-strokes/

[2] https://www.ahajournals.org/doi/10.1161/JAHA.118.011888

[3] https://www.bmj.com/content/363/bmj.k4811


Edited by Hazel Imrie

Copy-edited by Rachel Shannon


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