Do more people have heart attacks, go crazy and kill themselves around Christmas?


There are more heart attacks:


Research published in Circulation has shown that cardiac mortality is highest during December and January. We investigated whether some of this spike could be ascribed to the Christmas/New Year’s holidays rather than to climatic factors.


We fitted a locally weighted polynomial regression line to daily mortality to estimate the number of deaths expected during the holiday period, using the null hypothesis that natural-cause mortality is unaffected by the Christmas/New Year’s holidays. We then compared the number of deaths expected during the holiday period, given the null hypothesis, with the number of deaths observed. For cardiac and noncardiac diseases, a spike in daily mortality occurs during the Christmas/New Year’s holiday period. This spike persists after adjusting for trends and seasons and is particularly large for individuals who are dead on arrival at a hospital, die in the emergency department, or die as outpatients. For this group during the holiday period, 4.65% (+/-0.30%; 95% CI, 4.06% to 5.24%) more cardiac and 4.99% (+/-0.42%; 95% CI, 4.17% to 5.81%) more noncardiac deaths occur than would be expected if the holidays did not affect mortality. Cardiac mortality for individuals who are dead on arrival, die in the emergency department, or die as outpatients peaks at Christmas and again at New Year’s. These twin holiday spikes also are conspicuous for noncardiac mortality. The excess in holiday mortality is growing proportionately larger over time, both for cardiac and noncardiac mortality.


Our findings suggest that the Christmas/New Year’s holidays are a risk factor for cardiac and noncardiac mortality. There are multiple explanations for this association, including the possibility that holiday-induced delays in seeking treatment play a role in producing the twin holiday spikes.

Source: “Cardiac mortality is higher around Christmas and New Year’s than at any other time: the holidays as a risk factor for death.” from Circulation. 2004 Dec 21;110(25):3781-8. Epub 2004 Dec 13.

No increase in psychiatric admissions:

We compared the number of psychiatric admissions from the emergency room during the Christmas season, defined as the rate for the month of December, with those in other months. The psychiatric emergency rates were recorded for each month over six consecutive years, 1991 to 1997. The average number of emergency patients in none of the 12 months differed significantly from any of the remaining months (ANOVA, p > .05). Our data and those of other authors do not support the clinical lore that Christmas season is associated with higher rate of psychiatric emergencies.

Source: “Psychiatric emergency rates during the Christmas season in the years 1991 to 1997.” from Psychol Rep. 1999 Oct;85(2):403-4.

Relationship to suicide is interesting; there is a postponement effect where fewer people kill themselves leading up to the holiday with an increase afterward:

The relationship between suicide and birthdays, and suicide and public holidays has been studied from data on 32,291 Danish suicides by persons ages 15 years and older in the 25-year period 1970-1994. Evidence was found to support the theory of the “broken-promise effect” for major public holidays in that there appears to be a postponement of a significant number of suicides from before a holiday until after. The division of holidays into nonworking and (half-time) working days showed that a “holiday effect” could only be found around major public holidays, particularly Christmas, Easter, and Whitsun. The postponing or transpositioning effect is relevant to prevention, especially because of the availability and accessibility of help at the end of and after major public (nonworking) holidays.

Source: “Postponed suicide death? Suicides around birthdays and major public holidays.” from Suicide Life Threat Behav. 1999 Autumn;29(3):272-83.

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