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4 ways the holiday season could kill you

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The holiday season is a time of cheer, joy, and family gatherings.  But there are also certain health risks that come along with the heavy eating, drinking, and constant gatherings.

Researchers have looked at how the holiday season effects everything from car accident rates to house fires to the risks of mundane activities like crossing the street. Here's what they found.

1) Car accidents happen more often

traffic deaths holidays

Holidays in general are a deadlier time to be on the roads, but Thanksgiving Day in particular consistently comes out on top of traffic fatalities for any given day.

Alcohol appears to be a major driver of these deaths. In the average day in 2012, about 30 percent of traffic fatalities involved someone impaired by alcohol. On holidays, between 38 to 44 percent of traffic fatalities involved alcohol, according to data from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

2) Walking is extra deadly on New Year's Day

pedestrian crash deaths by day

An in-depth analysis of 1986 to 2002 data published in the journal Injury Prevention found pedestrians are most likely to die in a car crash on New Year's Day — and more than half the deaths involved alcohol.

Some of the most dangerous days for pedestrians fall on December 20 and 23, which are very big gift shopping days. A 2013 University of Alabama study found the days leading up to Christmas are among the most dangerous on the road even when compared to the weeks of New Year's Day and Thanksgiving.

"While fatal crashes were comparable, crashes involving injuries and those with only property damage were significantly higher mainly before Christmas," said David Brown, a computer science professor and research associate at the University of Alabama, in a statement. "This was probably a result of the increased traffic due to late Christmas shopping, coupled with long distance travel where many might not be familiar with their travel environment."

Pedestrians were also much more likely than average to die in a car crash on Halloween Day. Although it's difficult to discern how many of these deaths are related to trick or treating, NHTSA has warned parents to decorate their children's costumes "with reflective tape and have kids carry glow sticks or flashlights" and take other steps that reduce the chance of a tragedy.

3) Home cooking fires are much more common

Thanksgiving and Christmas involve a lot of delicious home cooking. That helps explain why home cooking fires peak on these days (and Easter). Home cooking fires are three times more likely during Thanksgiving, according to a report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA).

To avoid these accidents, NFPA recommends families maintain a close eye on whatever they're cooking, keep children away from the stoves, and make sure their smoke alarms are working.

4) Heart attacks are more common

heart monitor

A stethoscope rests on the results of a heart test. (Shutterstock)

A 2004 study published in Circulation found that heart-related deaths increase by roughly 5 percent during the holiday season, based on an analysis of 53 million US death certificates from 1973 to 2001.

Katherine Kam at WebMD previously looked into why that's the case. To start, cold weather appears to strain the heart — it causes vessels to constrict, which raises blood pressure. Emotional stress from dealing with family and extra exercise, such as snow shoveling, can also increase the chance of heart problems. And in some cases, people may put off getting medical help when they feel ill to avoid ruining the holiday festivities.

Alcohol could play a role in holiday heart disease as well. According to the American Heart Association, excessive drinking can lead to high blood pressure, abnormal heart rhythm, heart failure, and even sudden cardiac death.

None of this, of course, means you should fear and avoid celebrating the holidays. But when you do, drink responsibly, remain cautious, and stay off the roads.