dave-mittlemanThe presents are wrapped, the holiday meal is prepared, and the snow is on the ground…so, of course, we expect that everything else will go perfectly. In fact, while we’re on holiday breaks, we want life to be “on break”, too. Sadly, that is not the way that it works. According to medical experts, the holidays are the exact time of the year when everything can go wrong—for your health.

In addition to all the holiday merrymaking, there is also a lot of stress during this time of the year, as well as snow shoveling and high-fat foods. Naturally, then, many people have more heart attacks during the holidays than at any other point during the year. Add to that short-staffed emergency rooms, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster.

But I’m not trying to be a Grinch here and ruin the holiday fun. There are things that you can and should do for yourself to keep things happy, and not disastrous for your health. First, be alert of these warning signs of a heart attack:

  • Chest discomfort, including pain, pressure, squeezing, or a feeling of fullness in the center of the chest. The symptoms may wax and wane.
  • Pain or discomfort that radiates to one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw, or stomach.
  • Sudden onset of shortness of breath, even without chest discomfort.
  • A cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness.

It’s even better if you can avoid heart attacks altogether by avoiding the high-fat foods and stress as much as possible. Medical experts have the following advice on how to stay healthy to avoid heart attacks:

  • Avoid overindulging in food or alcohol. The risk of an attack appears to double in the two hours after a particularly large meal.
  • Get a flu shot and treat any respiratory illness immediately. In frail folks, those infections can sometimes precipitate an attack.
  • Minimize emotional stress. Negative emotions, such as anger or stress, trigger the release of hormones that can threaten your heart.
  • Bundle up outside, since cold temperatures can increase blood clotting and cause blood vessels to constrict.