If history is any gauge the three deadliest coronary days of the year will occur over the next two weeks; Christmas day, the day after Christmas, and New Year’s Day. Events that are commonly called `Christmas Coronaries’ or `Hanukkah Heart Attacks’.
Fifteen years ago, a study looked at the rate of heart attacks in the United States, and found that Acute Myocardial Infarctions (AMIs) run as much 53% higher during the winter months than than during the summer.
Spencer FA, Goldberg RJ, Becker RC, Gore JM.
While cold weather combined with strenuous physical activity (like clearing snow from sidewalks) has often been blamed for this spike, even in balmy Southern California, studies have shown a 33% increase in heart attacks over the holidays (see below).
A 12-Year Population-Based Analysis of More Than 220 000 Cases
Robert A. Kloner, MD, PhD; W. Kenneth Poole, PhD; Rebecca L. Perritt, MS
Non-climate related factors – like over indulgence in food and alcohol, diminished activity levels, forgetting to take prescription medicines, and combined holiday stressors like shopping, running up debt, traveling, meal preparation, and the angst that comes from dysfunctional family gatherings are likely contributors to this yearly spike.
But increasingly influenza and other respiratory infections have been linked to this seasonal increase in heart attacks.
In 2012, in Study: Influenza And Heart Attacks, we looked at research that appeared in the Journal of Infectious Diseases that suggested Influenza - and other acute respiratory infections - can act as a trigger for heart attacks. The same issue carried an editorial called Increasing Evidence That Influenza Is a Trigger for Cardiovascular Disease.
Charlotte Warren-Gash, Andrew C. Hayward1, Harry Hemingway2, Spiros Denaxas2, Sara L. Thomas3, Adam D. Timmis5, Heather Whitaker6 and Liam Smeeth4
In 2010, in CMAJ: Flu Vaccinations Reduce Heart Attack Risk we saw what would turn out to be a controversial study (see Vaccine/Heart Attack Study Questioned) that strongly suggested that those over the age of 40 who get a seasonal flu vaccine each year may reduce their risk of a heart attack by as much as 19%.
Last year (October 2013), in JAMA: Flu Vaccine and Cardiovascular Outcomes, we looked at a meta-analysis of 5 published and 1 unpublished randomized clinical trials involving 6735 patients – that found among those who had previously had a heart attack, the receipt of a flu vaccine was linked to a 55% reduction in having another major cardiac event in the next few months.
So the idea that heart attacks may be linked to influenza infection is hardly new.
In late October of this year, the Texas Heart Institute published this article, suggesting that tens of thousands of cardiac deaths could be prevented if every high-risk cardiac patient got the flu shot each year.
Influenza vaccinations could prevent thousands of deaths from heart disease
People who are at risk of heart disease should receive the influenza vaccine every autumn. Research shows that influenza epidemics are associated with a rise in deaths from heart disease and that flu can actually trigger the heart attacks that result in death.
However, only about 60 percent of people in the U.S. who ought to have a flu vaccination actually have one, said Mohammad Madjid, MD, MSc, a senior research scientist at the Atherosclerosis Research Lab of the Texas Heart Institute.
If their hypothesis is correct – given the expected reduced effectiveness of this year’s flu vaccine (see CDC HAN Advisory On `Drifted’ H3N2 Seasonal Flu Virus) and the rising tide of H3N2 influenza across the country – the next couple of weeks could prove very busy for the nation’s EMS crews and Coronary care units.
But regardless of the effectiveness of this year’s flu shot, and influenza’s effects on cardiovascular events, even on an `average day’ roughly 1,000 people suffer a Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) in the United States.
This from the Heart Rhythm Association:
- Sudden Cardiac Arrest (SCA) is a leading cause of death in the United States, claiming more than 350,000 lives each year.
- Approximately 92% of those who experience sudden cardiac arrest do not survive.
- SCA kills more than 1,000 people a day, or one person every 90 seconds
What the people who witness these events do in the first few minutes can mean the difference between life and death for the stricken individual. Luckily, hands-only CPR (cardio-pulmonary resuscitation) is easier to do than ever before, and there are thousands of AEDs (automated external defibrillators) stationed in public venues across the nation.
With a little bit of training, you have the potential to save someone’s life.
While it won’t take the place of an actual class, you can watch how it is done on in this brief instructional video from the American Heart Association. To learn how to use an AED, you can use this online training module I wrote about in CPR Skills & AED Simulator. A CPR class only takes a few hours, can be fun, and is well worth the effort.
Of course, despite your best efforts, many SCA victims will not survive. It isn’t at all like on TV, where 75% of recipients of CPR survive. Even when cardiac arrests occur inside a hospital, the survival to discharge rate is less than 40%. Outside the hospital, the odds of seeing a good outcome are lower.
While there are no guarantee of success, early and coordinated action taken by bystanders (calling 911, starting CPR, using AED if available) can substantially improve the SCA’s chances of survival.
For more on heart attacks, and CPR, you may wish to visit some of these earlier blogs.