Jul 16, 2014 1:00 AM

Author: Office of Public Affairs

You’ve been warned: going on vacation may be bad for your health. The risk of a heart attack not only increases during the summer, but particularly when you’re on vacation, according to John Ryan, MD, a cardiologist with the University of Utah.

The first and second days of a trip are typically when your risk is highest, he said. That may be because of the stress of travel with family, dehydration from flights and car trips and even a change of altitude.

Both men and women are at risk of heart attacks and the risk increases as they age.

“Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in North America,” he said, noting many women are not aware of that fact.

A person’s risk can double on vacation, particularly if the individual already has certain risk factors such as smoking, obesity, poor exercise habits, high cholesterol or high blood pressure. Yet even people without a history of heart disease can be in danger.

“When you vacation, you do things you don’t normally do,” Ryan said, such as more vigorous activity, eating richer foods and drinking and smoking more than normal. “You want to have fun, but you don’t want to push your limits.”

Increased alcohol use can lead to dehydration, which causes the blood to get thicker and develop into clots. Slower blood flow can trigger a heart attack.

Whether you’re on vacation or not this summer, people in Utah should be cautious during poor air quality days. Even so-called “moderate” air quality days can be problematic for individuals with heart and lung concerns.

“When there’s more pollution in the air, folks who have heart disease have less oxygen,” Ryan said.

Another summer activity—golfing—also carries an increased risk of heart attacks. But that needs to be understood through the data, the doctor said. Many golfers are over 50 and out on golf courses for four to six hours in sometimes remote locations.

The bottom line is that chest pain that is out of the ordinary and lasts more than 10 to 15 minutes should be taken seriously, Ryan said.

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