Learn the 7 Most Dangerous Times for Your Heart

In more than 25 years of treating heart patients, I’ve noticed that heart attacks don’t always strike randomly. There are certain predictable “danger zones,” especially for patients with heart disease or risks for it, like smoking, diabetes, high cholesterol, or high blood pressure. Being aware of these high-risk windows might lead you to tweak your lifestyle and lessen your risk of problems.

A manic Monday. Sunday night blues make your heart sad too. When the incidence of heart attacks is studied day by day, heart attacks spike on the days we return to work after a break. Stress over the coming workweek raises levels of adrenaline and cortisol, which may increase blood pressure and clotting. Starting the week on a calmer note with even five to 10 minutes of morning yoga or meditation has helped my patients. Walking at lunch to relieve midday stress is another good idea.

The death of a loved one. Researchers who analyzed thousands of U.S. heart attack victims found that those grieving a death were more likely to have an increased heart attack risk in the week following their loved one’s passing. Swedish research found that the heart attack risk remains elevated for several years. If you are suffering from a loss and feel alone or depressed, seek out counseling and support from your doctor, friends, and family. Don’t sit home alone and suffer.

A bout of flu. As if extreme exhaustion, achiness, and high fever weren’t bad enough, the influenza virus may quadruple your odds of having a heart attack for up to three days following the illness. The virus may trigger an inflammatory response that can damage arteries. Being dehydrated thickens blood, making it prone to clot. And a fever can increase your heart rate, forcing the heart to work harder. If you still feel ill a few days after recovering from the flu, seek medical attention immediately.

A devastating natural disaster. After the 8.9 magnitude earthquake and accompanying tsunami killed thousands of people in Japan in 2011, the rate of heart attacks among survivors increased threefold in the following three weeks, compared to the same calendar weeks in past years. It’s important for first responders and health care providers to be aware of this.

A big sporting event Believe it or not, even cheering for your team can break your heart — if you get so wrapped up in the game that your emotions spiral out of control. Soccer’s World Cup is serious business in Brazil. When researchers studied four Cups’ worth of data, they found heart attacks increase during the tournament’s finals and are highest when Brazil is playing compared with other teams. If you’re a screaming sports fan, you could ask your doctor about taking a daily baby aspirin. Better yet, try to take things down a notch.

An unforgettable nightmare. Patients in a cardiac care unit recovering from a heart attack reported a higher frequency of nightmares and worse sleep patterns than healthy patients did. Researchers believe that feeling anxious or frightful during bad dreams could be an emotional trigger for heart attacks (probably by raising cortisol and adrenaline). Sleep specialists may be able to help.

Shoveling snow. The cardiac stress of cold weather and heavy snow can be extreme. In case studies, researchers have described heart attacks in patients who suffered a clot in a previously placed heart stent during or soon after shoveling snow. We’ve seen similar heart attack risks in hunters dragging game out of cold fields. I tell my patients with heart disease to dress warm, take frequent breaks, stay hydrated, and, in some cases, just play it safe and leave the shoveling to someone else.