Melbourne: Deaths related to heart disease go up around Christmas and they are not because of the cold winter season when death rates are usually at a seasonal high, says a study.
Debunking the belief that the spike in deaths during Christmas is mainly due to the cold winter season, the study said that people tend to hold back in seeking medical care during the holiday season, a factor that could probably explain the rise in such deaths.
"Spikes in deaths from natural causes during Christmas and New Year's Day has been previously established in the US," said study author Josh Knight from the University of Melbourne in Australia.
"However, the Christmas holiday period (December 25th to January 7th) in the US falls within the coldest period of the year when death rates are already seasonally high due to low temperatures and influenza," Knight said.
In this study, researchers analysed trends in deaths in New Zealand, where Christmas occurs during the summer season when death rates are usually at a seasonal low -- allowing researchers to separate any winter effect from a holiday effect.
The study -- published in JAHA: Journal of the American Heart Association -- found a 4.2 per cent increase in heart-related deaths occurring away from a hospital from December 25 - January 7.
During the 25-year study, the average age of cardiac death was 76.2 years during the Christmas period, compared with 77.1 years during other times of the year.
Although more research is needed to explain the spike in deaths, the researchers suggested one possibility may be that patients hold back in seeking medical care during the holiday season.
"The Christmas holiday period is a common time for travel within New Zealand, with people frequently holidaying away from their main medical facilities. This could contribute to delays in both seeking treatment, due to a lack of familiarity with nearby medical facilities, and due to geographic isolation from appropriate medical care in emergency situations," Knight said.