During the holiday season, emergency rooms in Florida and other areas around the country see an uptick in heart-related problems, especially atrial fibrillation. What is Holiday Heart Syndrome and what is its cause? 

What is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

Holiday Heart Syndrome refers to alcohol-induced atrial arrhythmias. One study states that Holiday Heart Syndrome can cause up to 35 percent of new-onset AFib cases, and more than half of the victims are under the age of 65. It’s a term that first got its name back in 1978 when doctors began to notice more AFib cases related to increased alcohol use.

Causes of Holiday Heart Syndrome

The most likely cause is excessive or binge alcohol drinking. When you drink alcohol, your stress level rises, and you become dehydrated. The combination is enough to give you an irregular heartbeat called an arrhythmia. An arrhythmia that lasts longer than a few hours can trigger sudden cardiac death.

What is Considered Binge Drinking?

Binge drinking is different for men and women. Overall, binge drinking means consuming a large amount of alcohol, four servings for women and five for men, in just two hours. That amount of alcohol consumption causes the blood pressure to rise quickly and lead to AFib or even a heart attack.

Why Do People Develop Holiday Heart Syndrome?

It’s not clear why some people develop alcohol-induced arrhythmia. The practical explanation is they drink frequently, and there is already some structural damage to the heart. During the holidays, it’s natural for people to relax and have a few drinks. They will kick their alcohol consumption up a notch from their regular three or four drinks a night.

Chronic drinking causes a buildup of ethanol and metabolites associated with it. When they binge drink, the excess alcohol combined with already existing heart issues creates a perfect cardiac storm.

How to Avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome

The key is to be careful how much alcohol you drink, especially in a short time frame. If you drink, do it in moderation. For women, that means one drink per day and for men, just two. Also, stay away from high fat and cholesterol drinks like eggnog. 

Be aware of the possibility of Holiday Heart Syndrome, too. Symptoms include:

  • Dizziness
  • Trouble breathing
  • Chest pain
  • Unconsciousness
  • Heart palpitations

If you experience any of these warning signs, get medical help right away from an EP doctor or emergency room. The most significant risk with Holiday Heart Syndrome is sudden cardiac death, so it is especially important to get treatment.

If you or a loved one are living with a heart rhythm disorder such as atrial fibrillation, contact Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. Our team of EP doctors has been serving patients in Sarasota and surrounding cities including Port Charlotte, Venice, Tampa, and Sun City Center for over a decade.

About Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A.

The experienced electrophysiologists of Heart Rhythm Consultants, P.A. have been serving West Florida including Sarasota, Venice, Tampa, Port Charlotte, and Sun City Center for over 15 years. Our specialty cardiologists, or EP doctors, help patients manage their abnormal heart rhythm conditions, whether they suffer from arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation (AFib), or other irregular heartbeats. Dr. Dilip J. Mathew, Dr. Antonio Moretta, and Dr. Rajesh Malik perform arrhythmia treatments like cardiac ablation, cryoablation, and implanting pacemakers or defibrillators. Dr. Mathew has performed nearly 5,000 complex cardiac ablations. View our office locations in Sarasota and Venice, Florida.