Alcohol's Effects on the Heart and Your Holiday

two couples toasting with wine glasses

Don't let holiday heart syndrome ruin your holidays.

The holiday season is a time for getting together with friends and family. Unfortunately, it's also a time when some may experience an irregular heartbeat pattern brought on by consuming too much alcohol, often in combination with added sodium-rich foods.

Called "holiday heart syndrome," this condition is associated with people drinking excessively over a short period of time (unlike alcoholic cardiomyopathy, where chronic long-term abuse of alcohol leads to heart failure). Holiday heart syndrome can affect people who have no history of heart disease, including young adults and teenagers. Although the condition is typically temporary and may not be life-threatening, according to Dr. Renee Sangrigoli of Doylestown Health Cardiology, it can be frightening and result in a trip to the emergency room.

The incidence of holiday heart syndrome tends to increase with binge drinking, or can be caused by an unusual sensitivity to alcohol consumption. Some people are extremely sensitive to alcohol, making them vulnerable to episodes of atrial fibrillation even after moderate consumption. Importantly, says Dr. Sangrigoli, "when people stop drinking the abnormal rhythm tends to resolve on its own . However if there are any associated symptoms such as dizziness, difficulty breathing, chest pain, or loss of consciousness, urgent evaluation is recommended."

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common type of heart rhythm disorder.

Arrhythmia Symptoms

  • Fluttering in the chest
  • Racing heartbeat
  • Slow heartbeat
  • Skipping heartbeat without any explainable cause, like physical exertion or sudden stress
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Weakness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Fainting or near fainting

Irregular heartbeat isn't the only cardiac concern over the holidays. There is also an increase in the number of heart attacks. People tend to overeat or overexert themselves this time of year. Climbing ladders in the cold weather to decorate the house, traveling with heavy luggage, hauling presents -- these are common ways people overdo it during the season.

Heart Attack Signs

  • Squeezing chest pain
  • Pain in the neck or pain that radiates up and down one arm
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sweating without physical exertion
  • Nausea or lightheadedness

If you or a loved one experiences these symptoms, it’s important to seek medical attention immediately. Call 9-1-1. Never drive yourself to the emergency room.

Everything in moderation is the key to avoiding holiday heart syndrome or a trip to the ER. The holidays are a time to relax and enjoy being with your friends and family. Do your best to keep your heart healthy this season!

About Doylestown Health's Heart & Vascular Services

Expert cardiologists and cardiac surgeons assist patients and physicians with managing risk factors for heart disease, offer advanced treatment options and provide outstanding emergency cardiac care. Doylestown Hospital’s accredited Chest Pain Center is fully prepared to treat cardiac emergencies around the clock, focusing on rapid diagnosis and effective treatment. The multidisciplinary team at the Woodall Center for Heart and Vascular Care is dedicated to providing the highest level of quality care and patient safety.

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