Merry Christmas! Pass the defibrillator!

‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house, not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse … possibly because the bloke who lived there had dropped dead from a heart attack.

Research from Sweden reveals that Christmas Eve – and in particular 10pm on Christmas Eve – carries the greatest risk of the whole year for cardiac misfortune.

A team led by Moman Mohammad from Skane University Hospital in Lund looked at 283,014 cases of myocardial infarction recorded on a Swedish health database between 1998 and 2013 and identified the day – and where possible, hour and minute – of symptom onset.

From there, they teased out heart attacks that occurred on Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, across New Year, and on other significant days, including Easter and major sporting events.

They found that on Christmas Day and the Swedish national holiday of Midsummer’s Day cardiac events rose by 15% and 12% respectively, when compared to the days a week prior and after. On Christmas Eve, however, the heart attack rate shot up by a whopping 37%.

It should be said, of course, that in Swedish tradition the night before Christmas is the principal celebration of the season, so activity and emotion can both be expected to run high.

Christmas Eve heart attacks peaked at 10pm, and were most common in people over the age of 75.

Perhaps a similar level of high-spirited activity could be expected on New Year’s Eve, but surprisingly Mohammad and colleagues found no matching spike in cardiac issues. There was, however, a slight uptick on New Year’s Day, which the researchers suggest, with admirable understatement, could be “possibly explained by a negligence and masking of symptoms due to alcohol”.

Easter and football finals, it seems, did nothing to affect the national heart attack rate.

The research is published in the journal BMJ.

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