Holiday Heart Syndrome: Know Your Risks

Heart Disease Lake Success NYThe term “holiday heart syndrome” first appeared in 1987, when 24 patient cases were studied during the holiday season. Each of the patients in the study visited the hospital with atrial fibrillation, a condition with symptoms including heart palpitations, light-headedness, chest pain, and shortness of breath. Atrial fibrillation occurs when the rhythm of the upper heart chambers becomes too fast and irregular. This condition is associated with heart failure and stroke. Upon observation of patient cases, researchers discovered that they all shared one thing in common: alcohol consumption.

The patients who had presented to the hospital with symptoms of atrial fibrillation self-reported that they consumed alcohol either regularly or heavily. During the holiday season, consumption increased, as did their heart symptoms.

Alcohol and Holiday Heart Syndrome: What is the Link?

Scientific studies have not fully identified the way that alcohol affects the heart, though some evidence suggests that alcohol is generally cardiotoxic. Furthermore, some people are more susceptible to the effects of alcohol and are therefore more at risk of severe cardiac weakening related to a few more cocktails than usual or even one or two glasses of wine. The weakening of the heart muscle causes an increase in heart pressure, this increase leads to stretching in the upper chambers of the heart, which leads to atrial fibrillation.

The body undergoes several changes after heavy alcohol consumption. These include an increase in adrenalin, an elevation of free fatty acids in the blood, change in the heart’s electrical currents, which are responsible for the movement of sodium throughout the heart cells. The diuretic effect of alcohol also diminishes the body’s vital levels of sodium, potassium, and magnesium.

Additional Factors Presented During the Holiday Season

It isn’t only drinking that can affect the heart negatively during the holidays. Coinciding habit changes that are common during this time of year include an increase in sugar and salt intake. We more easily overeat and consume foods that are harder for the body to metabolize. The holidays also lead to increased stress and depression, affecting cortisol levels in the blood.

Living Well to Live Longer

The clear answer to holiday heart syndrome and lifelong heart health is to maintain good daily habits, regardless of time of year and other external factors. Experts suggest:

  • Obtain medical care right away if heart symptoms occur, including a holiday.
  • If you have symptoms of atrial fibrillation, avoid alcohol altogether.
  • Avoid overeating by using smaller plates and socializing away from the table.
  • Maintain a balanced diet of fresh vegetables as much as possible.
  • Manage stress levels and emotional health by visiting or speaking with friends and family regularly.

Premier Cardiology Consultants offers diagnostic and treatment protocols for atrial fibrillation and numerous other heart conditions. For personal care in a professional environment, contact us at 516-437-5600.

Posted in: Common Symptoms, Heart Attack

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