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Heart Attack Risk Rises During Holidays

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DES MOINES, Iowa -- Dr. Magdi Ghali is an interventional cardiologist at Mercy Hospital and Medical Director of Research for Iowa Heart Center. Dr. Ghali sees an increase in heart attacks this time of year. “It starts to ramp up around Thanksgiving and then increases and then Christmas, between Christmas and New Year’s we see a definite increase,” said Dr. Ghali. "And unusually you see sometimes some of the younger patients during that time," said Dr. Ghali.

During the holidays, sweets are everywhere, and people are given to excessive eating and drinking. "The truth of the matter is, the hospital is no exception, so you just have to watch," said Dr. Ghali. "Take a small bite of something instead of the whole cupcake and enjoy two or three small cupcakes," he said.

Then you add the stress that comes from traveling and family conflicts on top of excessive eating and drinking and all of it culminates in a perfect storm of factors that cause people to have heart attacks. "Now, it doesn`t cause people to have heart disease, those are patients that are already at risk, because of smoking, high blood pressure, cholesterol, family history, all the traditional risk factors," said Dr. Ghali.

But when those at risk patients have an extra adrenaline rush during the holidays, the results can be deadly. "That`s the hormones that our body secretes when the body`s under stress and that actually leads to the blood vessels constricting, so they`re smaller, leads to the platelets, which is the blood clotting components of the blood, sticking to each other and plaque rupturing and those are the things that lead to heart attacks," said Dr. Ghali.

So how do you prevent yourself from getting into that danger zone? "The lifestyle modification through the whole year, before we come to the holidays, which is basically exercise more, eat less fat, don`t succumb to stress, check your cholesterol and if you have any symptoms, see your doctor because anything that`s detected earlier is much easier to treat," said Dr. Ghali.

And keeping the right mindset can also save your life. "During the holidays with the stress, a good advice is don`t sweat the small stuff, you know, you see people stressing over a lot of things and getting into conflicts and a little bit of a mindful outlook on life, and put a sense of perspective, help us respond to stress in a lot better way and it`s good for our physical, not only psychological and mental health," said Dr. Ghali.