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What is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

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‘Tis the season to be…tipsy? As holiday parties ramp up and social gatherings become the norm, more individuals are being diagnosed with “holiday heart syndrome.” Essentially, the moniker is attributed to a condition brought on by drinking too much alcohol. 

The nickname was coined in the 1970s when doctors were noticing that a fair number of healthy individuals were being admitted to the hospital with arrhythmias or abnormal heartbeats after indulging in a bit too much drinking. Between excessive alcohol consumption, dehydration and stress of the season, this trifecta leads to “holiday heart syndrome.”

Research from a July 2021 study published in Clinical Autonomic Research details that even minor amounts of alcohol can lead “to an increase in sympathetic [“fight or flight”] activity and a decrease in parasympathetic [“rest and digest”] activity, resulting in an autonomic imbalance…” Ultimately, this means that one moment you’ll be enjoying the party and the next, you may feel chest pain, shortness of breath or heart palpitations. 

While this can sound alarming, the severity of the issue depends on each individual and their health history. If you have a history of heart problems, or are at high risk, err on the side of caution and seek medical help if you experience any of these symptoms. If your chest pain lasts beyond 20 minutes, it’s advisable to go to the ER. Listen to your body, and if something seems wrong, it most likely is.

Other factors can also contribute to the condition, including dehydration, not having eaten enough food beforehand or even the strength of the spirit consumed.

“Holiday heart syndrome” can occur at any time of year, but is most associated with December as holiday parties are in full swing and festivities fill everyone’s calendars. 

While “holiday heart syndrome” is reversible once you stop consuming alcohol, any fleeting episodes could be cause to seek out your healthcare provider for an overall health checkup. Irregular heartbeats tend to be more common in women and older adults, but “holiday heart syndrome” can happen to anyone who imbibes. Ultimately, alcohol is a toxin and too much of what is seemingly a good thing can lead to trouble. 


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