Heart attack risk peaks on Christmas Eve, though it may be Christmas Day for many others

LONDON — Christmas may be a time of joy, but for many others, it can be a time of great pain too. A new study out of Sweden shows that one’s risk for a heart attack peaks on Christmas Eve, but it turns out that may actually mean the risk is really greater for Americans on Christmas Day.

That’s because the researchers point out Swedes typically hold their main celebrations on Christmas Eve rather than December 25, which they believe could be the reason that the risk is higher on that day.

For the study, the researchers looked at the exact timing of heart attacks that occurred for 283,014 patients in Sweden between 1998 and 2013. While Christmas and midsummer holidays showed a notably higher risk (15 percent and 12 percent, respectively), the researchers found a significant uptick in heart attacks occurring on Christmas Eve. They say the risk was highest at 10 p.m., with a 37 percent greater risk.

Because Christmas Eve is when the holiday is mainly celebrated in Sweden, the authors say emotions run higher then, leading to the spike. People over 75 and those battling illness, especially diabetes and heart disease, are most at risk, with stress playing a large role.

The authors also found a higher heart attack risk on Monday mornings around 8 a.m.

Interestingly, the likelihood wasn’t any higher on New Year’s Eve, which is also the day when Swedes typically hold their New Years’ celebrations. Instead the risk was greater on January 1, “possibly explained by a negligence and masking of symptoms due to alcohol,” the authors write.

While previous studies have linked emotional stress to heart attacks during sporting events, the authors did not make that association in this study. They also found no greater risk during Easter.

Though the study is believed to use the largest sample size from a major registry for heart attack research, the authors still caution that results are strictly observational. There could certainly be other reasons behind each case that they’re unaware of. Nonetheless, they say anger, sadness, anxiety, grief, or stress can all increase a person’s risk.

And of course, whether you hold your celebration on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day can also make all the difference.

The full study was published in the Christmas 2018 edition of the BMJ.