Heart attacks have their own timetable. Experience in hospitals all around the world shows that the numbers of emergencies of this type are at their highest between seven and eight o’clock, whether in the morning or in the evening. Hearts just love solar twilight. The first and last light of the day marks the time for cardiac failure and this is no coincidence.
Cardiologist José Luis Palma, vice-president of the Spanish Heart Society, says that just like animals, humans are influenced by the universe. Circadian rhythms set the pace of life, illness and death.
“We live as part of a cosmos and we are therefore subject to its influences. People’s lives, like those of any other animal or plant and even some microbes, are marked by the cycle of light and darkness in periods of 24 hours. Science has shown that its influence even reaches our cardiovascular system,” he says.
An authentic storm
It is known that the arrival of dawn light and its disappearance at sunset cause physical, mental and behavioural changes. The critical time for the cardiac system is early morning, the time we wake up. The body, in rest and recuperation phase during the night, automatically reacts to the light of day or the moment when the brain decides it has had enough time sleeping. At that moment there is an increase of catecholamines in the blood; this is a substance – actually hormones – produced by the nerve cells. It is very important in managing stress, but can also be the trigger for a cardiac accident.
The body generally welcomes catecholamines because they favour coagulation, but they can also trigger high blood pressure, rapid heartbeats, anxiety, sweating and pain in the chest. The body is simply preparing for daytime activity, but the cardiovascular system is being tested. With a fast heartbeat and hypertension crisis, the risk of heart attack is more than evident, especially when, whether they know it or not, someone is more at risk because of family history, excess weight, smoking and, in addition, if their cholesterol is too high.
“In someone who has had a previous coronary problem and poor ventricular function, in other words a heart which contracts badly, this type of physiological alteration, although natural, can have a serious effect,” warns Dr Palma. The risk of sudden death and heart attack reduces as the hours pass, but they are still maintained until midday.
To prevent a scare, it is best to start the day dedicating our time to the very first thing we do: waking up.
“The alarm clock goes off and we are immediately in a rush because we need to get to work on time, and that is very bad for us. We should set the alarm half an hour earlier so we can get up slowly, have a nice shower and eat a leisurely breakfast. It is best to go to work calmly, and it is also better to use public transport because driving, especially at that time of day, is tremendously stressful,” says Dr Palma.
A short siesta
Another good idea for preventing this type of heart attack, which is related to the forces of nature, is to take a short siesta. Twenty minutes of light sleep is more than enough to reset the brain and settle blood pressure and cardiac rhythm. Pure prevention.
Between 7 and 8pm, when the body prepares to go into night mode, the risk of a heart attack increases once again. That’s the catecholamines and so on coming into play.
“I have worked all my life in a coronary unit in Madrid and there has always been a time when there is a major increase in certain type of heart attacks. It is due to the circadian rhythms,” says José Luis Palma. “We don’t really know why it happens, but it does and there are things we can do to try to prevent the consequences”.
Don’t hesitate, call up the 112 emergency number. 70.000 people in Spain a year have a heart attack, and half of them do not recover.
By Fermin Apezteguia from Sur in English