By: Basim Tadros, MD, TMH Physician Partners – Cardiac & Internal Medicine Specialists, Services by Southern Medical Group, PA – American Board Certified of Internal Medicine
The holidays are here and it’s the perfect time of year to bring family together and create positive, everlasting memories. However, what many don’t realize, are the amount of changes that can quickly occur with diet and mental health over these crazy busy weeks.
Holiday diets often contain lots of fat, sugar, salt, excess calories, caffeine and alcohol consumption. In addition, the holidays often carry some level of emotional stress, sleep deprivation, less exercise, last-minute shopping, financial concerns and changes in physical environment. With these alarming realizations, our health is top of mind.
Studies show there is increased rate of heart failure hospital admissions following Christmas day. The most common reasons are:
- Increased salt intake. This causes the body to retain excess fluid which is more than the heart can handle. The fluid ends up accumulating in the legs which causes swelling, in the lungs causing shortness of breath, and in the gut causing stomach aches, indigestion and abdominal pain.
- Increased alcohol consumption. Often called “Holiday Heart Syndrome,” increased alcohol consumption can cause episodes of irregular heart rhythms (Atrial Fibrillation).
- Use of medications. Medications can cause serious consequences if used in excess or without medical instruction.
- Delayed check ups. Many people postpone immediate medical care when they start to get sick over the holidays to avoid missing out on family time. This delay ends up with progression of the problem to the point where patient might require to be admitted to hospital.
Acknowledging the problem is always the first step to solve it. But this raises the very serious question, “What should I do if I have heart failure and I want to enjoy the holidays without any problems?” I would have a few recommendations that would guide you through the holidays.
- Take all your prescribed medications on time. It may seem obvious, but with heart failure it’s crucial. Make sure you have enough medications before doctor’s offices are closed for the holidays. Those medications will help you live longer, breathe easier, have more energy and stay out of the hospital.
- Keep active. Make sure to move around regularly -- park your car away from store entrances and/or go for walks.
- Watch your daily sodium intake. Read food labels, keep an eye out for hidden salts (processed, prepackaged and restaurant foods) and think outside of the saltshaker! According to the American Heart Association, an ideal limit is no more than 1,500 milligrams of salt per day, which can significantly improve blood pressure and heart health. To put this into perspective, 1 teaspoon of salt = about 2,300 mg sodium. Wow!
- Keep an accurate daily log of your weight. Weight gain can be a sign of retaining fluids and progression of heart failure. Point out quick weight gain to your doctor. Likewise, watch your leg swelling.
- Minimize stress and get enough sleep. Write down a to-do-list to stay organized, reduce stress where you can, go to bed early and remember it is OK to ask for help and rely on others.
- Stay positive! Last but not least, always keep a positive attitude, smile and laugh your way through the day.
To learn more about healthy living, visit TMH.ORG.