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Heart Attacks Are More Common on Birthdays


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The Claim: Heart Attacks Are More Common on Birthdays


THE FACTS If the stress of a pink slip or the strain of physical exertion can set off a heart attack, then why not the emotion associated with birthdays?

Although typically a time of celebration, birthdays for some can be filled with intense pressure and even anguish, a day of silent despair or expectations unfulfilled. That, scientists say, is particularly true with the elderly, who are more likely on birthdays to begin to think of their lives in terms of how much time is left, rather than how much time has passed.

One extensive examination of the claim was conducted by Canadian researchers and published in the journal Neurology this year. In the study, the researchers tracked more than 50,000 patients, with an average age about 70, who were treated for heart failure at hospitals in Ontario in a two-year period. What they found was a strong relationship between birthdays and the onset of so-called vascular events.

Strokes, acute myocardial infarctions and transient ischemic attacks were 27 percent more likely to occur on birthdays than on other days of the year. Still, there was no corresponding increase for other types of illness, like appendicitis, head trauma or symptoms of asthma, suggesting that heart attacks were unique. The scientists attributed the phenomenon largely to anxiety and other “psychosocial stressors,” but other factors may be involved.

Another large study, in New Jersey in 1993, found a similar birthday spike — 21 percent for men and 9 percent for women — suggesting that overindulgence may play a role. Drinking and smoking, for example, are more common on birthdays, especially among men, something that could also explain the gender difference in the New Jersey study.

THE BOTTOM LINE Heart attacks occur more frequently on birthdays than on other days of the year.

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