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How to avoid “holiday heart syndrome” this season

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Holiday heart syndrome can affect even people who drink infrequently.

Too much alcohol, salt, and caffeine may lead to a temporary irregular heartbeat.

When celebrating with family and friends at this time of year, you may not think twice about having an extra glass of wine or adding a little more to your plate. But a little overindulgence could result in an abnormal heartbeat (arrhythmia). The condition is known as holiday heart syndrome. “People are often surprised or frightened when they develop a fast, irregular heartbeat, seemingly out of the blue,” says Dr. Deepak Bhatt, a Harvard Medical School professor and editor in chief of the Harvard Heart Letter.

Causes and symptoms

Holiday heart is usually a temporary problem that resolves within 24 hours. It often results from excessive alcohol consumption, and it can affect heavy drinkers as well as those who seldom raise a glass. “Reasons may include the effects of alcohol on the heart, making it more susceptible to arrhythmia. It could also be heightened levels of adrenaline,” says Dr. Bhatt. Overeating can make it worse, especially foods high in salt. Too much caffeine and a lack of sleep can also contribute to the problem. “Symptoms can include palpitations, shortness of breath, or chest pain. Most commonly, it is a feeling that the heart is beating very quickly and irregularly,” says Dr. Bhatt.

It’s not easy to predict who will experience holiday heart. However, if you have atrial fibrillation (afib), you should ask your doctor whether it’s safe for you to drink alcohol. Afib is the irregular beating of the heart’s upper chambers (atria). Alcohol can trigger episodes of afib, but drinking in moderation may be safe for some people with afib.

What you should do

If you do experience a racing heart after drinking too much, watch the time. If the episode lasts for hours, or is accompanied by symptoms such as chest pain, shortness of breath, or fainting, go to the emergency department. If the feelings subside within minutes, tell your doctor about it at your next appointment. Also, try to remember how much alcohol you had and what you ate prior to your holiday heart episode, so you can better identify triggers in the future. “The holidays are a time of lots of parties. Excessive alcohol, salt, and calorie intake can trigger different heart problems. So, best to do all things in moderation,” says Dr. Bhatt. 

Posted by: Dr.Health

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