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How Serious Is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

Medically Approved by Dr. Edward Salko

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photo young man feeling sick and holding his chest in pain while drinking tea in the living room

The holiday season is filled with an atmosphere of fun, merriment, and endless food and booze. But it doesn’t mean you’re shielded from health consequences that come thereafter. 

In fact, deadly heart attacks increase between December and January where holidays typically line up. 

However, one curious heart condition has been observed during these times: the holiday heart syndrome. Irregular heartbeats characterize this condition often observed after consuming large amounts of alcohol.

Holiday heart syndrome is rarely life-threatening for healthy individuals who don’t have any previous history of heart conditions. Moreover, the issue often resolves itself once you stop binge drinking.  

Nonetheless, if other symptoms manifest or if the condition persists, it could be a significant cause for concern. 

If you’re wondering about the development of holiday heart syndrome and how to prevent it, just keep on reading as we dive into the essential details you need to know. 

What Is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

Holiday heart syndrome is an occasional condition of irregular cardiac rhythm or arrhythmia occurring after a bout of drinking alcohol. People experiencing this condition note rapid and fluttering heart rates that can be pretty unnerving. 

It usually affects healthy individuals, which makes it even more disconcerting. 

Oftentimes, those who have gone binge drinking over the weekend or during a holiday party will have to take a period of recovery or detoxification. 

But since most people do not fully understand holiday heart syndrome, those experiencing holiday heart syndrome seek hospitalization, assuming that the condition is related to a severe heart condition. 

While holiday heart syndrome can go away on its own, if the experience is alarming, seeking medical help is the wise thing to do. 

With that, you can detect holiday heart syndrome through the following symptoms. 

  • Chest pain 
  • Dizziness
  • Breathing problems
  • Loss of consciousness 

However, if other symptoms come along, you may want to consult your doctor. 

While holiday heart syndrome should not be a cause of panic if you are healthy, those who have existing heart conditions or chronic disorders should take extra precautions as the impact might be worse than average.

Nevertheless, holiday syndrome is not permanent. If you put the bottle down and stop drinking alcohol, it starts to fade away. 

The Role of Alcohol in Holiday Heart Syndrome 

Alcohol plays a huge part in triggering holiday heart syndrome. However, the link between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation (heart arrhythmia) is still not completely understood. More research is still necessary. 

Nonetheless, what’s clear is that drinking large amounts of alcoholic beverages is a lever for the condition.

Alcohol, in general, affects the functions of the brain. For example, it blocks certain signals between neurons, leading to intoxication, frequent urination, slow reaction time, and rapid blood flow. 

On the other hand, when it comes to the heart, alcohol induces a temporary increase in heart rate, elevating blood pressure. These impacts become a clear foundation of the negative consequences of binge drinking alcohol on the cardiovascular system. 

Why Is It Called Holiday Heart Syndrome?

joyful family gathered around for Christmas morning

It’s called holiday heart syndrome for an obvious reason which is the time the condition is frequently observed – during holidays. 

Holiday heart syndrome often occurs during the holidays, particularly around Christmas and New Year, where the risk for heart attacks increases by 15%

Celebrating these events align with other holidays in the season, often including a feast with excessive food and alcohol. Therefore, people often drink twice as much or even beyond that during parties and get-together activities. 

Moreover, the season also stimulates a kind of thinking where you can binge eat and drink, considering the holidays don’t happen every day. Add the social pressure and enjoyment you get from company, and you can find yourself drinking more bottles than you can tolerate. 

But alcohol is not the sole culprit of holiday heart syndrome. The stress that comes with coping with the cold weather, shopping for gifts, and preparing for the festivities also contribute to the condition. 

Likewise, as your diet changes during the holidays, you tend to favor more decadent dishes high in sugar and fats which also impact the cardiovascular system. 

Obviously, holiday heart syndrome can occur anytime in the year whenever you find yourself drinking nonstop. 

So, regardless of whether it’s Christmas, New Year, or just a regular Friday night, moderation should be practiced all the time. 

Is Holiday Heart Syndrome Serious? 

Holiday heart syndrome may seem alarming but it’s not necessarily severe unless you have an existing heart condition. Also, it commonly goes away when you stop drinking. 

That being said, some people treat it as part of a serious hangover. However, this shouldn’t be the case all the time. 

But if it doesn’t resolve itself, you would want to have your health checked as soon as possible. Atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots, increasing the risks for hypertension and heart failure

How Long Does Holiday Heart Syndrome Last? 

On average, holiday heart syndrome can last for 24 hours after binge drinking. After that, it will commonly resolve itself, but it is still recommended to seek medical attention if the symptoms are aggravated.  

How to Prevent Holiday Heart Syndrome? 

Protecting yourself from holiday syndrome depends on your level of control. After all, it all boils down to moderation when it comes to drinking and eating during the holiday. 

Consider the following preventive measures. 

  1. Avoid binge drinking at all costs.

There’s a chance you’ll be going to several parties during the holiday. And when you do, you might not be able to keep track of the glasses or the bottle you consume. This is why setting a limit is critical to avoid overdrinking. 

  1. Be mindful of what you eat.

Salty and fatty foods can also induce holiday heart syndrome. 

Unfortunately, most holiday dishes have high amounts of these substances. Hence, it’s more critical to be mindful of what you eat when there’s plenty to choose from. 

  1. Get a wellness checkup.

Underlying conditions can take a turn for the worst during the holidays. 

If you’re not aware of your health, you might mistakenly assume a heart complication as holiday heart syndrome or vice versa. Therefore, it’s best to secure a wellness checkup, especially before the holidays kick in. 

The Bottom Line 

It’s hard not to ignore any abnormalities concerning the heart, especially if you’re in the middle of holiday fun. 

However, instead of dealing with the condition as it occurs, you can always prevent it by being conscious of your alcohol and food consumption. 

If you experience holiday heart syndrome, don’t panic and stop drinking altogether. However, if the symptoms persist and aggravate, don’t hesitate to seek medical attention. 

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