Beware of holiday heart syndrome: the risks of excessive holiday drinking

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During the festive holiday season, indulging in drinks like rum-laced eggnog, mulled wine, or a hot toddy is common, but doctors are warning about the risks of “holiday heart syndrome.”

This term refers to a surge in emergency room visits for heart rhythm problems linked to excessive alcohol consumption during the holiday season, explains Dr. Sharon Reimold, chair of cardiology at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas.

“Holiday heart syndrome” is not an official medical diagnosis but is used to describe the noticeable increase in patients seeking emergency treatment for atrial fibrillation (AFib) in December.

AFib is characterized by irregular and rapid beating of the heart’s upper chambers. Common symptoms include shortness of breath, lightheadedness, chest pain, heart palpitations, and rapid heartbeat. This condition elevates the risk of stroke and heart failure.

Dr. Reimold highlights the issue of people attending multiple parties and unknowingly consuming excessive alcohol, leading to the cumulative effects that can trigger AFib.

She stresses that even if the symptoms are sporadic and often resolve within 24 hours, they should not be taken lightly, and medical care should be sought for any heart problems.

The phenomenon isn’t limited to the holiday season; AFib can occur any time excessive alcohol is consumed. Research has linked a significant number of new AFib cases to heavy drinking.

Additionally, consuming too much food, especially salty foods, can also heighten the risk of AFib.

The key advice from Dr. Reimold is moderation during holiday celebrations. Guidelines for moderate alcohol consumption recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one drink per day for women, with a drink defined as 8 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits.

Party hosts can also play a role in preventing holiday heart syndrome by offering non-alcoholic alternatives such as non-alcoholic beers or wines, or “mocktails” made with non-alcoholic spirits.

These measures can help ensure that holiday festivities are not only enjoyable but also heart-healthy.

If you care about heart disease, please read studies that herbal supplements could harm your heart rhythm, and how eating eggs can help reduce heart disease risk.

For more information about heart health, please see recent studies that apple juice could benefit your heart health, and results showing yogurt may help lower the death risks in heart disease.

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