FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. ‒ If you think you're likely to overindulge during the holidays, you may need to watch out for “holiday heart” syndrome.
Physicians such as Steven F. Horowitz, M.D., chief of cardiology at Stamford Hospital, warn that even those with no history of heart disease are at risk for "holiday heart” syndrome after even one night of heavy drinking.
Arrhythmias, heart rhythm disorders where the heart beats too quickly (tachycardia) or too slowly (bradycardia), commonly occur with “holiday heart” syndrome. “The most common one," said Horowitz, "is atrial fibrillation, a usually rapid and irregular heart beat arising from the top chambers, or atria, of the heart.”
But he adds, symptoms are not always that straightforward. “People may feel only palpitations or may have shortness of breath or dizziness. They can also pass out.”
In addition, the syndrome is not necessarily limited to holidays, said Dr. Robert Pilchik, chief of cardiology at Northern Westchester Hospital.
“Any situation where there is so-called ‘binge’ behavior ‒ college vacations and college reunions among them – can manifest in holiday heart,” said Pilchick. But a prolonged period of party-going, such as the months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, can increase a person’s risk for experiencing symptoms.
Holiday heart can be harmless and usually goes away within 24 hours. But if you are experiencing palpitations and/or your heart is racing, and if you feel dizziness, shortness of breath or any other potentially dangerous symptoms – during the holiday season or at any time – Pilchik strongly urges you to immediately seek medical care at the nearest emergency room .
In addition to moderate alcohol consumption, you can decrease your chance of experiencing holiday heart by consuming less high-fat and high-sodium foods, as well as by maintaining your usual exercise routine as much as possible.
How can you prevent holiday heart? Don’t overindulge, said Horowitz. Go to the holiday parties, he added: just avoid overdoing it.