A drop in temperatures leads to a rise in heart attacks

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by JANET ST. JAMES

WFAA

Posted on December 10, 2012 at 6:30 PM

ARLINGTON -- Joe Hall is inspired to help other heart patients rehab at Texas Health Arlington after his own massive, Christmas Day heart attack last year.

"I first thought that I was having a bad case of indigestion after eating a lot of Christmas food," the 69 year old said.

A big meal might have been part of it.

"Holiday Heart Syndrome" is a well-documented medical phenomenon that can be the result of stress, lack of sleep, excessive alcohol or caffeine ingestion, and/or dehydration. The symptoms include an irregular heartbeat in people who are otherwise healthy.

But, the latest research from the American Hearth Association also shows heart-related deaths rise in the winter.

One large study used data on hundreds of thousands of heart attacks documented in the National Registry of Myocardial Infarction, found that 53 percent more cases were reported in winter than in summer. The pattern was seen across gender, age and geographic area.

Research from Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles analyzed death certificate data from seven U.S. locations from coast to coast, including Texas. Circulatory deaths, including fatal heart attack, heart failure, and stroke, rose from 26 to 36 percent from summer to winter.

Experts say cold temperatures can cause arteries to constrict.

"The cold raises blood pressure and increases stress on the heart," said Dallas cardiologist Dr. Bob Hillert.

The combination can trigger heart attacks, especially in older people, according to experts.

Joe Hall went to the hospital this past weekend while in the colder climate of the Texas panhandle.

"Actually two o'clock Saturday morning," Hall said, "and my heart was racing, and I'm saying, 'Oh no, I hope I'm not having another heart attack.'"

Hall said awareness of how the weather affects his heart can help keep him healthy.

Experts say it's often hard to determine if chest discomfort is an emergency. If pain lasts more than a few minutes, call 911 or seek emergency care right away -- don’t postpone treatment because you don’t want to spoil the holidays.

E-mail jstjames@wfaa.com

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