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Holidays can spark increase in heart attacks

December 11, 2018 GMT

When the holidays roll around, it’s more than just merriment that increases; it’s heart attacks.

Rene Rodriguez, divisional director of The Center for Heart Disease at Medical Center Hospital, said during a regular week, they will see one to six patients with symptoms of a heart attack. During the holidays, like Thanksgiving, for example, there can be one to three.

Sometimes people have no symptoms, but mostly it’s shortness of breath, chest pain, jaw pain, left arm pain, or back pain, Rodriguez said.

Cardiac Cath Lab Supervisor Mark Gonzales said a lot of people mistake a heart attack for heartburn.

Rodriguez said one patient came in with an earache that turned out to be a heart attack.

“During the holidays, we do so many other things — binge eating,” drinking alcohol and smoking, he said.

Gonzales said holidays also mean decreased exercise, which people should keep up with.


“It kind of makes it even more difficult to determine what symptoms you are having,” Rodriguez said.

People also overexert themselves in the cold weather and Gonzales noted that there is increased financial stress.

“Forty year olds think they’re 20 year olds. They play with their kids, either basketball, football or something and come to find out they’ve had some type of an artery disease that they didn’t know about. That can trigger a big heart attack,” Rodriguez said.

Gonzales said the majority of people have underlying issues such as diabetes, atherosclerosis and high cholesterol. In the colder weather, the heart pumps harder to keep people warm and the blood vessels contract.

“If you already have some type of build-up in your vessels and then they constrict, it makes that blood flow even less, or completely blocks it off. Then you’re in trouble,” Rodriguez said.

Gonzales added that because it’s the holidays, people often wait to go to the doctor. Rodriguez said sometimes people wait too long.

“You want to please everybody, and with pleasing everybody you put yourself last,” Rodriguez said. “You don’t necessarily think about the real outcome,” which could mean a big hit for your family.

Gonzales advises those suffering heart attack symptoms to take an aspirin and call 9-1-1.

“They have all the right tools and medicine to keep you alive from oxygen to nitroglycerin to something to monitor your heart rate/rhythm and trained personnel that can resuscitate you if needed,” Rodriguez said.

Gonzales added that they had a 39-year-old, a 41-year-old, a 47-year-old and a 63-year-old come in with symptoms.

“The 39-year-old was our acute heart attack that came in. Everybody else had symptoms and their blood work showed they were having heart attacks, but their EKG was still normal,” Gonzales added.

Rodriguez said the patient population is getting younger and there has been an uptick in the last three to five years of younger patients with a history of drug use.


“The stressful jobs they hold, the alcohol, plus the drug use that’s going on as well. A lot of what is directly impacting these patients is the drug use that they’re involved in,” Rodriguez added.

Rodriguez and Gonzales said the drugs include methamphetamines and cocaine. Smoking also is a factor, as is any kind of stimulant, or illness.

Adderall is a stimulant and would put extra stress on someone’s heart, Gonzales said.

“It’s surprising how many people are addicted to Adderall that are out there and it’s the younger generation that’s really, really gone to that,” he said.