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Why having ‘Holiday Heart’ is not a good thing

December 06, 2016

This time of year, with the endless stream of holiday parties filled with delicious food and festive alcoholic drinks, it’s easy to understand how a normally healthy, disciplined person might throw moderation to the wind and binge a little.

But while people seem most concerned with putting on a few extra pounds over the holidays, perhaps the focus should be on what they are potentially doing to their heart.

“Holiday Heart” is nothing to be cheerful about

If you’ve ever felt like your heart was racing, “beating funny”, had a fluttery feeling in your chest or even felt dizzy, you may have been experiencing a serious condition known as “holiday heart” – a colloquial term for alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation, or abnormal heart rhythm.

First coined in 1978, the term “holiday heart syndrome” describes the irregular heart rhythms (or cardiac arrhythmias) that occur during the holidays, typically in healthy people with no heart disease and often after several days of heavy alcohol consumption.

“There are several theories on the mechanism of alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation,” explained Dr. Nikole Funk, medical director at Southview Medical Center. “The most popular theory is the electrolyte changes that occur with heavy drinking. The changes in electrolytes alter the cellular current of the heart, causing it to beat irregularly.”

Why is atrial fibrillation dangerous?

According to the American Heart Association, although an attack of atrial fibrillation can feel frightening, it usually doesn’t have harmful consequences by itself. The real danger is the increased risk for stroke. Even when symptoms are not noticeable, atrial fibrillation can increase a person’s risks for stroke and related heart problems.

When to seek help

“If you experience sustained palpitations or feelings of skipped beats for greater than 15-30 minutes, you should be evaluated by a healthcare professional. If you experience any chest pains, shortness of breath, or dizziness, you should be evaluated immediately,” said Dr. Funk.

Full service facilities like Southview Medical Center, with on-site cardiovascular surgeons and electro-cardiologists on staff, can treat your condition quickly.

How to avoid “Holiday Heart”

Do your heart a favor this holiday season and watch your alcohol intake, especially if you already have heart disease risk factors such as family history, overweight, high cholesterol, smoking and/or high blood pressure. Drinking in excess can increase pressure on the heart and weaken the heart muscle.

Like so many things in life, moderation is key to avoiding holiday heart and staying happy and healthy this holiday season.