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Five Heart Health Hazards to Avoid This Holiday Season

By: Dr. Katie Schoenman, D.O., General Cardiologist

‘Tis the season. But the holiday season isn’t only full of your favorite things. Whether you’ve struggled to find the perfect gift, cook the delicious meal or ensure everything is just right for your family and friends, the holiday season is full of stress. Throw in high calorie, high cholesterol and high fat foods and not all is merry and bright for your heart.

Today, more Americans have heart attacks during the holiday season than any other time of the year. In fact, December 25, 26 and January 1 are among the top three days for heart attacks, with odds beginning to rise nearly 40% on Christmas Eve.

It’s not just increased chances of heart attacks during the holidays either – research has shown that heart attacks during the holiday season may lead to increased mortality rates.

But don’t despair, there are actions you can take to protect your heart, your health and your holidays from a “Merry Christmas Coronary” and “Happy New Year Heart Attack.”

  1. Manage Your Stress

Stress is known to increase heart attack risk factors such as higher blood pressure and cholesterol.

• Focus on quality, not quantity. The holidays are filled with family commitments, community happenings and so many opportunities to overextend yourself. When it comes to commitments, focus on the ones that really count.
• Not everything has to be perfect. Ask yourself, “is this good enough?”
• Remember to make time for you. Treat yourself to a warm bath, a good book or a few of your favorite things. Take time to incorporate exercise into your daily routine.

  1. Keep Your Medical Appointments & Take Your Medications

Even while practicing social distancing during the Coronavirus pandemic, it is important you keep essential visits with your healthcare providers. Essential medical appointments include chronic disease management for heart disease and management of other cardiovascular risk factors such as high blood pressure.

• In many cases, your Queen’s provider may offer remote appointments via telehealth.
• If you are required to visit one of our hospitals or clinics for an appointment or procedure, you can rest assured our facilities are safe for care.
• We have implemented advanced measures in our hospitals and clinics to address COVID-19 with the goal to keep our patients, visitors, staff and providers healthy and safe.
Remember to continue to take your medications prescribed by your doctor.
• If you are going out of town for the holidays, remember to take the appropriate amount of medication with you (with enough to spare should your plans change).
• Plan your refills ahead of any potential pharmacy closings.
• Set reminders or alarms to take medications during holiday celebrations.

  1. Don’t Overindulge “When it Comes to Eat, Drink and Be Merry”

It doesn’t take eating and drinking to be merry. While comfort foods and holiday treats may feel like your seasonal go-to, remember to only eat and drink in moderation.

• Avoid holiday weight gain by eating healthy meals with proper portions.
• Drink alcohol responsibility. While we traditionally think of this for alcohol, it is also true for caffeine, which can contribute to heart complications and trouble sleeping.

  1. Get Your Flu Shot

Flu shots not only keep you safe and healthy by reducing your chances of acquiring the flu, they may prevent flu complications that can present in those with heart disease.

• The flu can cause complications such as bronchitis, pneumonia and even heart attacks.
• Having the flu can worsen pre-existing conditions such as diabetes, asthma and heart failure
Protect yourself and your ohana this holiday season by getting your flu shot. Since the flu virus and the virus that causes COVID-19 will both spread this holiday season, it is more important than ever to ensure you get a flu shot.
• Flu vaccines have been shown to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death.
• Getting a flu shot can also save healthcare resources for the care of patients with COVID-19.
• Flu shots protect yourself, your family and the community.

  1. Know the Signs and Symptoms of a Heart Attack

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death. According to the American Heart Association, some heart attacks are sudden and intense; however, most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort. Never dismiss signs and symptoms of a heart attack due to holiday obligations and celebrations.

Warning Signs of a Heart Attack

Knowing the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can mean the difference between life and death. According to the American Heart Association, some heart attacks are sudden and intense; however, most start slowly with mild pain or discomfort.

• Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes – or it may go away and then return. Chest discomfort can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
• Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
• Shortness of breath. This can occur with or without chest discomfort.
• Other signs. Other possible signs include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

Heart Attack Symptoms in Women

Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States; however, heart attack symptoms may not always be self evident and may be perceived to be non life-threatening conditions such as the flu, reflux or another non-urgent condition. According to the American
Heart Association, heart attack symptoms for women may include:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of the chest that may last more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. Unlike men, women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.

Caring for the Hearts of Hawai’i

Queen’s Heart Institute at The Queen’s Medical Center offers comprehensive patient-centered cardiovascular medicine, surgical care and diagnostic testing all in one convenient setting. For both routine and more complex heart and vascular conditions, our world-class team provides comprehensive services utilizing the most advanced technology, treatment and care options to ensure the highest quality of cardiac care for our patients.
From your general cardiology needs to the most complex surgical or non-invasive procedures, Queen’s Heart provides compassionate cardiac care to you and your ohana (family). Our multidisciplinary team of board-certified, professionally trained physicians and advanced practice nurse practitioners are committed to providing expert diagnosis, treatments and care for the full range of cardiac and vascular conditions to improve the quality of our patients’ lives.

With the help of our Queen’s Heart team, you can keep your heart healthy and holidays bright. Explore other heart health tips and information at queens.org.

About Dr. Katie Schoenman, D.O.
Dr. Katie Schoenman is a General Cardiologist with Queen’s Heart Institute at The Queen’s Medical Center. As a board certified specialist, Dr. Schoenman treats patients with a wide range of heart conditions and disease.

After completing her medical degree at the Philadelphia College of Osteopathic Medicine, Dr. Schoenman completed her internal medicine residency at Lehigh Valley Hospital in Allentown, Pa. She went on to complete a cardiology fellowship with the University of Hawaii Cardiovascular Disease Fellowship Program.

As a doctor of osteopathic medicine, Dr. Schoenman is a fully licensed physician who uses a unique whole-person approach to prevention and treatment.

Dr. Schoenman sees patients at an outpatient practice on South Beretania Street in Honolulu, adjacent to The Queen’s Medical Center’s Punchbowl location. To learn more about Dr. Schoenman and Queen’s Heart Institute, visit queens.org or call (808) 691-8900 to schedule an appointment.