Protect Your Heart From Holiday Heart Syndrome

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The holidays are a time to drink and be merry, but festive drinking can put your heart at risk. Indulging in a few too many alcoholic drinks may trigger an irregular heartbeat, whether or not you currently have heart disease. Find out if your celebratory glasses of wine may be putting you at risk for holiday heart syndrome.

What Is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

Holiday heart syndrome was first introduced in 1978 in an academic paper published in the American Heart Journal. Philip Ettinger, MD, along with other physicians, recognized an association between binge drinking and arrhythmias (heart rhythm changes) in their patients. Atrial fibrillation, which causes a rapid, irregular heartbeat, was the most common type of arrhythmia noted. Researchers also noticed an increase in these cases after weekends and holidays. The studied patients were healthy and had no previous history of heart disease, which lead the team to assume overuse of alcohol during the holidays caused the onset of symptoms.

Are You at Risk?

You may be at risk for holiday heart syndrome if you consume too much alcohol during Christmas festivities or while ringing in the New Year. The American Heart Association defines binge drinking by:

  • Five or more alcoholic drinks within two hours for men
  • Four or more alcoholic drinks within two hours for women

The good news is that holiday heart syndrome is reversible. You may see any negative symptoms stop if you avoid binge drinking. In Dr. Ettinger’s study, new episodes of heart rhythm abnormalities disappeared after the studied patient discontinued heavy drinking.

3 Ways to Avoid It

Here are some ways to avoid temptation to binge drink during the holiday season:

  1. Toast with a soft drink. If you feel like your missing out on the fun, try sipping on sparkling juice, punch or a mocktail in a stemmed glass. You can also try this if you plan to drink. Limit yourself to one alcoholic drink, and then switch to nonalcoholic beverages for the rest of the night to avoid binge drinking.
  2. Know how to say no. Others may pressure you to drink with them—especially if they don’t understand your reasons not to. Be ready to give a firm and polite “no.” This will show them you plan to stick to your goals.
  3. Find an accountability partner. Have a trusted friend or family member keep you accountable at any holiday events where you may be tempted to drink too much.

If you experience chest discomfort, shortness of breath and lightheadedness after binge drinking, you may be experiencing signs of a heart attack. Call 911 for immediate medical attention.

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About the author

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.