Killer Christmas? Deaths spike around the holidays, and it's not the cold weather

Posted at 5:59 PM, Dec 23, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-23 17:59:13-05

As a doctor, I am aware of what’s known as "The Christmas Effect”. It’s a spike in deaths around the Christmas holiday. 

A study out of New Zealand is finding the same thing.

Researchers analyzed all the deaths there during a 25-year period. They totaled more than 738,000.

They found more than a 4 percent increase in heart-related deaths from December 25th through January 7th. 

This isn’t related to the cold weather since New Zealand is in the middle of summer for Christmas. So here in the US, we can’t put the blame all on winter.

It’s possible a group of people that die around Christmas are at the end of their lifespan, or are quite ill but hang in there to spend Christmas with their family.

Another reason for the rise could be because some people don’t feel well, but delay getting treatment because it’s the holidays. They end up dying from a heart attack that wouldn’t have killed them if they sought help earlier.

It’s very possible the rise in deaths is also linked to emotional and physical stress associated with the holidays.

There’s also the change in diet as we eat more unhealthy foods, drink more alcohol than usual and possibly travel longer distances and therefore spend more time away from home.

Here are some holiday tips to help keep you safe this season:

  1. Be sure to manage stress – get enough sleep and keep a relaxed and positive outlook
  2. Enjoy sweets in moderation – balance them with plenty of healthy fruits and vegetables.
  3. Watch your alcohol – heavy drinking carries health risks for heart disease and stroke.
  4. If you don’t feel right - don’t delay seeking treatment especially if the signs of cardiac distress occur

What are the warning signs of a heart attack?

Heart attacks can be sudden and intense or start slowly with mild pain and discomfort.

Be aware of signs like shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, pain in one or both arms. Also look for chest discomfort like an uncomfortable pressure, squeezing or pain. 

Always pay attention to your body and if concerned, seek immediate help.