By ALISON JOHNSON
Dangerous heart conditions strike more frequently during the holiday season, including a high number of fatal heart attacks on Christmas and New Year's Day.
"There is nothing worse than going out to tell a family their loved one is dead on a holiday," says Dr. Gary Kavit, chairman of emergency and trauma services at Riverside Regional Medical Center in Newport News, Va. "You know you have just ruined that holiday forever for them."
Here are ways to protect your heart:
* Watch portion sizes. Large, fatty meals will draw blood to the intestines for digestion -- and away from the heart. That's potentially deadly for people who already have blockages or other damage to their coronary arteries.
* Limit alcohol intake. Too much alcohol can irritate the upper chambers of the heart and trigger abnormal rhythms.
* Don't ignore symptoms. Chest pain that extends to the shoulder, arm, back or jaw is the classic sign of a heart attack, but others include abdominal pain, shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, vomiting and fatigue. Don't write it all off to indigestion or worry about disrupting holiday gatherings -- get help.
* Keep taking medication. People often forget blood pressure drugs, blood thinners and other prescriptions during the holiday bustle. Write yourself reminder notes if needed.
* Get a flu shot. Influenza is especially dangerous for people with a diagnosed heart condition; one possible complication is an increased risk of blood clots that can cause heart attacks.
* Reduce stress. Don't pack your schedule too full, walk away from unpleasant social situations and build relaxing activities into each day.
* Exercise -- but carefully. Regular exercise is a great stress-buster, but don't overdo it -- especially out in cold weather. Take breaks before you feel uncomfortable.