Holiday Heart Syndrome: Alcohol and Your Heart

By Dilip J. Mathew, MD, FACC, FHRS

Holiday Heart Syndrome: Alcohol and Your HeartThe holiday season means parties and family get-togethers – and alcohol is often a part of that. While having a drink or two is usually not a problem, heavy drinking, or binge drinking, can raise some serious health concerns.

Aptly named, Holiday Heart Syndrome typically occurs during the holiday season. Emergency rooms across the country experience an increase in healthy patients exhibiting symptoms of atrial fibrillation (AFib). It is often associated with the increase in alcohol consumption that occurs during the holidays, and binge drinking is a huge factor.

AFib symptoms include shortness of breath, rapid heart rate, fatigue, fainting, and heart palpitations. However, the primary concern regarding AFib is that it significantly increases the patient’s risk of stroke.

Experts define binge drinking differently for men and women. For women, binge drinking is defined as consuming more than four servings of alcohol within two hours. For men, it’s consuming more than five alcoholic drinks within that same time span. This activity is more commonly associated with younger individuals, but it can occur in any age group. The demographics tend to shift during the holiday season, showing that binge drinking is practiced among all age groups.

This is particularly troublesome for people who have an undiagnosed heart condition or underlying heart issues because it can trigger a heart attack. The alcohol can also cause a spike in blood pressure (alcohol elevates blood pressure, usually rapidly) which can trigger a heart attack. It can also put people at risk for developing seasonal AFib.

Abstaining completely from alcoholic beverages is not necessary. Moderate alcohol consumption is advised and may even provide some health benefits. The American Heart Association defines “moderate alcohol consumption” as:
. For women – Up to one full serving of alcohol per day
. For men – One or two servings of alcohol per day

The type of alcohol is also important. For instance, “spiked” eggnog is not advised, due to the fatty calories and high cholesterol. Red wine is a smarter, healthier option.

Don’t get so caught up in the holiday festivities that you ignore your health. If you experience any symptoms of a cardiac event, seek medical treatment immediately. Warning signs include:
. Shortness of breath
. Chest pain
. Heart palpitations
. Tightness or pressure in the chest or shoulder
. Cold sweat
. Tingling or numbness in the left arm or hand

During the holiday season, try to maintain a healthy, balanced diet, get proper rest, and make an effort to reduce your stress level.

It can be a little more of a challenge to maintain a healthy lifestyle during this season, but your health is worth it.

About Dilip J. Mathew, MD, FACC, FHRS
Dilip J. Mathew, MD, FACC, FHRS, is Board Certified in Cardiology & Cardiac Electrophysiology and has been practicing in the Tampa Bay area since 2004. He has devoted his practice, Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A., entirely to the management of heart rhythm disorders.

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