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Tips for heart health and wellness during the holidays

Holiday Health

Every year, there's often a shortage of platelet and blood donations during the holidays. This year, a number of factors have made the need for blood platelets especially urgent.

"One reason the supply of blood platelets has decreased is that we now have additional required testing of platelets after donation. A rare but serious complication called transfusion-related acute lung injury (TRALI) has been the leading cause of death due to transfusions. The new requirements save lives, but also shrinks the supply of blood platelets available for transfusions," said medical oncologist Dr. Thomas Froehlich at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

Cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy, trauma victims, and patients whose conditions require routine transfusions rely on blood and platelet donations from local blood organizations as part of their treatment. Platelets, which are extracted from blood donations, are vital for blood clotting, which helps prevent excessive bleeding in the event of an injury.​

Avoid holiday heart syndrome

The Grinch may not be the only one who has a problem with his heart during the holidays.

There's a notable December bump in the number of patients who show up during in emergency rooms with what's known unofficially as holiday heart syndrome - heart rhythm problems caused by overindulging, says cardiologist Dr. Sharon Reimold of UT Southwestern Medical Center.

"It's common for people to go to multiple parties during this time of year. You go to one party and have a drink or two, go to the next party and have a couple more. It's the cumulative effect of alcohol that can put you at risk, sending your heart into atrial fibrillation," says Dr. Reimold, Professor of Internal Medicine.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular and rapid contraction of the upper chambers of the heart. Shortness of breath, heart palpitations, and a feeling that the heart is beating much faster than normal are the primary symptoms of AFib, which is associated with an increased risk of stroke

Excessive eating and, especially, excessive salt intake, also can cause the problem. The American Heart Association recommends no more than 1,500 mg. of sodium a day.

Her advice: While drinking in the holiday spirit, take it easy on the holiday spirits and pay attention to how much you're eating and drinking.​

Chances are your routine checkup involves height, weight, blood pressure, and cholesterol levels, but if you've never had your cardiorespiratory fitness assessed, add that to the list, says Dr. Benjamin Levine, a Professor at UT Southwestern Medical Center and Director of the Institute of Exercise and Environmental Medical, jointly run by UT Southwestern and Texas Health Resources.

"Cardiorespiratory fitness represents the maximal work a person can do during exercise. It's generally measured on a treadmill or a bike, though it can also be estimated by simple field tests, like the time someone can run or walk two miles," says Dr. Levine, who was part of an American Heart Association group that recently issued a Scientific Statement calling for physicians to make an assessment of cardiorespiratory fitness a routine part of patient care.

While there are sophisticated and precise measurements of cardiorespiratory fitness that are done in a physician's office, it's possible for individuals to get a rough estimate of their fitness on their own. There are many versions of cardiorespiratory fitness tests and calculators online

"This measurement is so important because it shows how the heart, lungs, and muscles all work together, and it should be an element of assessment of heart disease risk along with factors like smoking history, diabetes, and hypertension," Dr. Levine says. "Decades of tests have clearly demonstrated that the ability to do aerobic exercise is strongly correlated with heart health."

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