WASHINGTON (Reuters) – Christmas is the deadliest day of the year for Americans with 12.4 percent more deaths than normal, researchers said on Monday.
More Americans die from heart attacks and other natural causes on Christmas, the day after and on New Year’s Day than on any other days of the year, the researchers reported.
It is probably because people are feeling too busy or too festive to go to the hospital over the winter holiday season, the researchers wrote in Monday’s issue of the journal Circulation.
The researchers, sociologist David Phillips of the University of California San Diego and colleagues there and at Tufts University in Boston, found a 4.65 percent increase in heart deaths and just shy of a 5 percent increase in non-heart deaths over the 14 days spanning the December holidays.
They did not count deaths from suicide, murder or accidents and took into account the perilous effects of a cold snap on health.
“We found that there is a general tendency for cardiac and noncardiac deaths to peak during the winter, but above and beyond this seasonal increase, there are additional increases in heart attack and other deaths around Christmas and New Year’s,” Phillips said in a statement.
In all, Phillips and colleagues counted more than 42,000 “extra” deaths during the holidays over a 26-year period. Only two years did not see this phenomenon — 1973, when oil prices peaked and people tended not to travel, and 1981, when a severe recession also kept Americans at home.
“Of all the things we considered that might impact the increase in holiday deaths from natural causes, only two were consistent with our data,” Phillips said.
“One possibility is that people tend to delay seeking care for symptoms. Another is that there are often changes in medical staff during the holidays and, consequently, the quality of medical care might be compromised.”
The report fits in with a study published in March that found heart attack patients sent to hospitals during the winter holidays are more likely to die than those admitted during the rest of the year,
Clinics, emergency rooms and other health facilities do not operate at top efficiency over the holiday period, said Dr. Trip Meine, a cardiologist at Duke University in North Carolina, who led the study released at an American college of Cardiology meeting.