Seasons may change heart attack risk

DALLAS, Oct. 12 -- Deaths from heart attacks appear to be seasonal, peaking during the winter holiday season of December and January and then falling, researchers report in today's Circulation: Journal of the American Heart Association.

Past studies have shown that deaths from heart attacks are more likely to occur during the early morning waking hours, but fewer studies have related coronary deaths to the months and the seasons.

When University of Southern California researchers looked at deaths from coronary artery disease for a 12-year period in Los Angeles, they found there were 33 percent more deaths in the holiday season of December and January compared to the summer and early fall.

"We were surprised by that," says Robert A. Kloner, M.D., Ph.D., director of research at The Heart Institute, Good Samaritan Hospital, Los Angeles and professor of medicine, University of Southern California, Los Angeles. "We weren't expecting that much of a difference."

Kloner says a few previous studies have shown that deaths from heart disease climbed as the temperature dropped. But in sunny, southern California where the temperature usually only fluctuates from 50 to 80 degrees, the researchers weren't expecting such an increase in the winter.

One explanation may be the holiday season, says Kloner. "The death rates are relatively steady through November then shoot up after Thanksgiving and through Christmas, peaking around the first of the year. This could be due to increased food, alcohol and salt consumption and increased stress during the holidays.

"Individuals may not be able to control the weather, but it may help to cut down on high-fat foods during the holidays," he adds.

Another possible factor could be the increased use of fireplaces and the particles emitted into the air from burning wood. These particles might irritate the lungs, decreasing the amount of oxygen in the bloodstream and then placing stress on the heart, says K

Contact: Carole Bullock
American Heart Association

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