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More heart attacks during the holiday season

December 28, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
The holiday season is when we're all thrown off our regular routine. We work out less, eat more and simply get stressed out. Doctors say it's a dangerous time of year because this is the time when many heart attacks happen.Paul Dennis, 63, was on a holiday vacation in Hawaii when he started feeling chest pains on the beach and on the plane ride home.

"I went into the emergency room Saturday, they [did] a procedure Sunday and I left the hospital Monday," said Dennis.

A week after Thanksgiving, he underwent an angioplasty at Glendale Memorial Hospital.

Cardiologist Dr. Lawrence O'Connor says the holidays are the season of heart attacks.

"It is significantly increased on Christmas day, the day after Christmas and January 1st," said O'Connor. "There is a lot of stress around that time of the year. And adrenaline starts coming out of our adrenal glands, increases our blood pressure; alcohol increases blood pressure; increased salt intake increases blood pressure."

O'Connor says if you have heart disease and want a healthier New Year, you should eat smaller meals, cut down on salt and curb your alcohol consumption.

"Too much alcohol is the worse alcohol for you. No alcohol taken in excess is good for you," said O'Connor.

Another deadly mistake people make is getting caught up in the holiday excitement or getting overwhelmed with family-related stress. Often they ignore or don't know what a heart attack feels like.

"The typical symptom is pressure underneath the breastbone that is exacerbated by exercise and improves with rest," said O'Connor.

Other symptoms include shortness of breath, sweating, abdominal pain, feeling light-headed or unexplained fatigue, and for women, an impending sense of doom.

Dennis knew something wasn't quite right so he took action. He encourages others to do the same.

"If they have some pain, don't hesitate to try to investigate," said Dennis.

To reduce your stress, you should start walking. Dr. O'Connor recommends walking 30 minutes a day, five times a week. And if you smoke, make a New Year's resolution to quit and stick to it.