St. Luke's Health System - Welcome
  Execute Search
 
News and Events
News Articles

Published:  December 21, 2009

St. Luke’s Emergency Department Prepares to See Higher Number of Heart Attacks on Christmas, New Year’s

Doctors at the Texas Heart Institute (THI) and St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital (St. Luke’s) are on alert during the holidays since the biggest days of the year for heart attacks are December 25, December 26, and January 1. People are being warned to look for specific signs and take extra precautions this holiday season to help prevent a heart attack.

There are factors that make these special holidays so dangerous, doctors point out. For example, during the holidays many people have very poor dietary habits. People tend to eat fatty and salty foods and have very heavy, filling meals. Many indulge in excess drinking and also exhibit a lack of exercise. Many people partake in holiday travel – this can lead to inadequate medical are as well as missed medications or doses. In some cases, fine particulates from fireplace smoke can lodge in one’s lungs and trigger a clot which can lead to a heart attack.

“Although there can be many causes for a heart attack, stress during the holidays have become more frequently associated with a higher number of heart attack patients,” says Kelly Larkin, MD, emergency department medical director, St. Luke’s Episcopal Hospital. "Chest pain is usually the most common sign, but some people have heart attacks without having chest pain. That's why it’s important to be aware of the other warning signs."

Many heart attacks are caused by a complete blockage of a vessel in the heart, known as a coronary artery. A blocked coronary artery prevents oxygen-rich blood and nutrients from reaching a section of the heart. During the holidays, people often indulge in foods that make for poor dietary habits; put off or delay their regular medical care; drink too much, irritating the heart muscle and causing high blood pressure and heart rate; and stay close to fireplaces, causing fine particulates from the smoke to lodge in the lungs, triggering a clot that leads to a heart attack.

Typical heart attack symptoms are:

  • Pressure, burning, tightness, or pressure-like discomfort in the chest, lasting five minutes or longer
  • Constant indigestion-like discomfort
  • Uncomfortable pressure in your chest that moves to the shoulders, arms, neck, jaw or back
  • Lightheadedness, fainting, sweating or a sick stomach
  • Unexplained shortness of breath.
  • Unexplained anxiety, weakness, nausea or tiredness
  • Awareness of abnormalities in the normal beating of the heart, with unexplained sweating and pale skin

Symptoms of heart attacks vary for men and women. "As with men, women's most common heart attack symptom is chest discomfort," says James Wilson, MD, cardiologist, THI. "But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw discomfort."

Anyone who has any of these signs for five minutes or longer should see a doctor immediately. Regardless of your gender, seeking proper medical care as quickly as possible is key to surviving a heart attack. Call an ambulance (dial 9-1-1) or have someone drive you to the nearest hospital emergency room. Do not drive yourself to the emergency room.

See more information on the holidays and heart attacks.


Return to News and Events.