Why the Day After Christmas Is Hazardous to Your Heart

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If you aren’t careful, your holiday fun could quickly turn fatal.

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December 26 is historically one of the most dangerous days of the year for people vulnerable to cardiac problems, including heart attacks, arrhythmias, and heart failure. And many of these so-called Merry Christmas coronaries will hit people who didn’t even realize they were at risk when they unwrapped their gifts the day before.

But the holiday season isn’t good for heart health to begin with. A 2004 study by researchers at the University of California, San Diego and Tufts University found that heart-related deaths increase by nearly 5% during the holidays, perhaps because patients delay seeking treatment for heart problems or because hospital staffing patterns change. But anecdotally, doctors say that their ERs stay quiet on Christmas Day itself. Then, come December 26, they see a surge of cardiac traffic. A 2008 study found that daily visits to hospitals for heart failure increased by 33% during the four days after Christmas.

“This time of year is notorious for heart attacks, heart failures, and arrhythmias,” says Samin Sharma, MD, director of interventional cardiology at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York. Here’s how to steer clear of the hospital.

Keep your ticker ticking

It’s easy to knock back several glasses of wine when you’re sitting around the holiday table for long stretches of time, especially if you tell yourself that wine is good for your heart. But more than one alcoholic drink can have consequences: Excessive drinking can trigger atrial fibrillation, a form of irregular heartbeat. If it persists, atrial fibrillation ups your odds of suffering a stroke. “There are huge campaigns not to drink and drive during the holidays, but no one talks about the heart dangers,” says Dr. Sharma.

Extra money woes coupled with an already stressful holiday season can also be a setup for overindulgence. “People don’t have as much money, but they still need to spend,” says Gerald Fletcher, MD, a cardiologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn. “They’re cutting back, but they’re worried about the credit card bill on the way. With all this in mind, people might be drinking more than ever.”

Normally, a holiday heart arrhythmia isn’t fatal, and in fact it usually fades on its own. Some of the symptoms are the same as a hangover–nausea, weakness, and a pale face–and your heart should be back to normal in 24 hours. But if it isn’t, you may need to see a doctor for medication or electrical cardioversion, which will stabilize your heart beat.

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13 Ways to Stop Drinking Soda for Good

Soft drinks can be bad for your waistline, your teeth, your bones, and more. (Yes, even diet ones!) Here’s how to make giving them up easier.

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by Amanda MacMillan

You know soda’s not exactly good for you–but at the same time, it can be hard to resist. Its sweet taste, pleasant fizz, and energizing jolt often seems like just what you need to wash down your dinner, get you through an afternoon slump, or quench your thirst at the movies.

But the more soda you consume (regular or diet), the more hazardous your habit can become. And whether you’re a six-pack-a-day drinker or an occasional soft-drink sipper, cutting back can likely have benefits for your weight and your overall health. Here’s why you should be drinking less, plus tips on how to make the transition easier.

Next: Why you should quit

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The Top 5 Cholesterol Myths

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American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol.

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Even if you think you know everything there is to know about cholesterol, there may be a few more surprises in store. Check out these common myths about high cholesterol; find out whos most likely to have it, what types of food can cause it, and why–sometimes–cholesterol isnt a bad word.

Myth 1: Americans have the highest cholesterol in the world

One of the world’s enduring stereotypes is the fat American with cholesterol-clogged arteries who is a Big Mac or two away from a heart attack. As a nation, we could certainly use some slimming down, but when it comes to cholesterol levels we are solidly middle-of-the-road.

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According to 2005 World Health Organization statistics, American men rank 83rd in the world in average total cholesterol, and American women rank 81st; in both cases, the average number is 197 mg/dL, just below the Borderline-High Risk category. That is very respectable compared to the top-ranked countries: In Colombia the average cholesterol among men is a dangerous 244, while the women in Israel, Libya, Norway, and Uruguay are locked in a four-way tie at 232.

Myth 2: Eggs are evil

It’s true that eggs have a lot of dietary cholesterol–upwards of 200 mg, which is more than two-thirds of the American Heart Association’s recommended limit of 300 mg a day. But dietary cholesterol isn’t nearly as dangerous as was once thought. Only some of the cholesterol in food ends up as cholesterol in your bloodstream, and if your dietary cholesterol intake rises, your body compensates by producing less cholesterol of its own.

While you don’t want to overdo it, eating an egg or two a few times a week isn’t dangerous. In fact, eggs are an excellent source of protein and contain unsaturated fat, a so-called good fat.

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