Risk of heart attack greatest on Christmas Eve - research

Study published in the British Medical Journal analysed 283,014 heart attacks

The risk of heart attack was greatest in the over 75s, and those with existing diabetes and heart disease.

The risk of heart attack was greatest in the over 75s, and those with existing diabetes and heart disease.

 

The risk of heart attack peaks at around 10pm on Christmas Eve, particularly for older and sicker people, according to a new study published in the British Medical Journal.

Researchers in Sweden have analysed the exact timing of 283,014 heart attacks reported to the Swedish coronary care unit registry over a 16-year period from 1998 to 2013.

The two weeks before and after a holiday - and the same period the year before and after a sport event - were set as control periods.

The researchers found that Christmas and midsummer holidays were associated with a higher risk of heart attack (15 per cent and 12 per cent respectively) compared with the control period.

Early mornings (8am) and Mondays were also associated with a higher risk.

But by far the day with the highest risk was Christmas Eve, with a 37 per cent increased risk of heart attack, peaking at around 10pm.

For Sweden, Christmas Eve is the main day of celebration and therefore the time when heightened emotions will most likely reach their peak, suggested the researchers.

The risk was greatest in the over 75s, and those with existing diabetes and heart disease, highlighting the need for society to raise awareness of this vulnerable group over the Christmas period, they added.

However, New Years’ Eve, which is usually considered to be the main day of New Years’ celebrations, had no associated risk.

The authors found that the higher risk was instead on New Year’s Day, which they say was “possibly explained by a negligence and masking of symptoms due to alcohol”.

Unlike previous studies, no increased risk was seen during sports events or during the Easter period.

The authors said this was the largest study conducted using heart attack data from a well-known registry, but they emphasised that it was an observational study, so no firm conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect.

Furthermore, they said they could not rule out the possibility that some of the risk may be due to other unmeasured factors.

Nevertheless, the authors said that experiences of anger, anxiety, sadness, grief and stress have previously been found to increase the risk of heart attack, as well as physical activity and lifestyle changes.

People are more likely to experience these heightened emotions during the national holiday periods, and older people and those with a history of diabetes and coronary artery disease were found to be more vulnerable to these short term triggers, they concluded.