Holiday Heart Syndrome: Knowing what it is, and the Symptoms may save your life
October 31, 2021
Unfortunately, our health doesn’t take a holiday.
Especially your heart. I mean it beats on average 115,000 times a day as we laugh, cry, celebrate or mourn it goes on in the background. Ans it’s uo to us to take the best possible care of it.
This time of year, after Halloween and all the candy comes Thanksgiving, Christmas Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s.
With holidays comes too much of everything, too much fat in cookies and rich foods and cheeses, too much salt, too much beer wine shots for many and too much stress.
Holiday heart syndrome is also recognized by physicians as a very real and potentially deadly phenomenon. If left untreated, it can result in serious complications including heart attack and stroke, as well as enlargement of the heart muscles called cardiomyopathy.
What is holiday heart syndrome?
Holiday heart syndrome (HHS) was first identified in 1978 by Dr. Philip Ettinger.
It is when healthy people without heart disease known to cause arrhythmia experience an acute cardiac rhythm disturbance known as a fib= atrial fibrillation that can happen after excessive alcohol intake
What is the cause of holiday heart syndrome?
Now we know holiday heart syndrome is also the result of a combination of factors beyond just drinking alcohol, including:
- Over-consumption of fatty meals filled with salt
- Excessive alcohol
We see these factors combined for celebrations that can accompany Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas, and New Year’s Eve.
Whether you drink now and then or you drink a couple daily, you need to use caution as this is a large factor for Holiday Heart Syndrome. Even if you are in good shape.
While people with a history of heart failure or other cardiac conditions are at greater risk for serious complications, those who are otherwise healthy usually see their arrhythmia stabilized after treatment in an emergency room with beta blockers and other medications to reduce their heart rate.
Too much caffeine can make your heart race.
Caffeine can also cause dehydration, which can lead to arrhythmia.
Overeating and weight gain
Whether enjoying a fabulous feast with friends and family at home or at a restaurant and at parties, it’s important to make sure you don’t overeat.
An unusually heavy meal such as one the holidays are known for, or at any time of the year, can put additional stress on the heart as your meal is digested, and overeating and over-drinking can increase your blood pressure and heart rate
Rich holiday meals tend to be associated with very high salt intake, which can lead to higher blood pressure.
Also, some research suggests that enjoying just one huge meal, despite previous healthy eating habits, is a bad thing and can quadruple the ordinary risk of a heart attack during the two hours after eating.
Try to focus on maintaining weight during the holidays, rather than losing weight.
We want to enjoy ourselves and the wonderful traditional foods that are available to us at this time of year, but be mindful. Remember to reduce your portion size, and cut back on any excesses so that you can avoid gaining weight wgich also hurts our joints and if we have arthritis mostlikely will also cause a flare.
Don’t forget the stress that the holidays place on us.
Stress leads to anxiety and that can lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
Other risk factors for heart health problems
Cold weather puts strain on your heart
For many, the winter holidays mean cold weather, which is hard on the heart and puts extra strain on it.
What happens is that your arteries tend to tighten up when you are out in the cold, your blood pressure goes up, and this can overload your heart, possibly leading to a heart attack. If you have previously suffered a heart attack or have heart disease, you should avoid shoveling snow and other types of outdoor exertion, particularly if you are out of shape.
As for the cold weather itself, Dr. Pack said it’s not so much the day-to-day cold of the winter that poses a threat, as much as it is a sudden shift in weather.
Lifestyle choices and managing your healthcare
While there are some risk factors that you can’t change, such as your family history, your sex and age, there are still many important risk factors that you can control, including:
- Smoking if you smoke STOP NOW
- High blood pressure
- High blood cholesterol
- Being overweight
- Physical inactivity
What are the symptoms of holiday heart syndrome?
The typical symptoms of atrial fibrillation include:
- Heart palpitations: Sudden pounding, fluttering or racing sensation in your chest.
- Lack of energy or feeling over-tired.
- Dizziness: Feeling light-headed or faint.
- Chest discomfort: Pain, pressure or discomfort in your chest.
- Shortness of breath: Having difficulty breathing during normal activities and even at rest.
While people already dealing with heart conditions are more likely to experience holiday heart syndrome, they’re hardly alone. Even people without heart issues might notice a rapid heartbeat or skipped beats after drinking too much alcohol. That typically isn’t cause for concern.
But everyone should be aware of the dangers and watch the intake of food to avoid these symptoms.
How to avoid holiday heart syndrome
Avoiding holiday heart syndrome isn’t all that hard, even if you want to take part in all the fine foods and drinks this time of year has to offer. The key to keep in mind is to plan ahead and take everything in moderation.
Have a game plan
Planning ahead when attending a party is important, Dr. Cho says. You don’t have to avoid rich foods altogether. However, she emphasizes being aware of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating can go a long way toward staying on track.
“Oftentimes people think, ‘Oh my gosh, I can’t have anything’,” Dr. Cho says. “No, you can have everything you want — except you must have it in moderation and be mindful of what you’re eating.”
She recommends having a smaller breakfast and lunch if you know you’re going to have a big dinner that evening. Another approach is to eat before you go to a holiday function, so you’re not tempted to overdo it. And if you’d like to have dessert (because Aunt Mary makes the best gingerbread yule log), just take a smaller slice.
At the party, be wary of foods that are heavy in cream, sugar or salt. Also, Dr. Cho advises against drinking alcohol in excess. It’s okay to have a cocktail, she says, but enjoy it slowly, throughout the evening instead of binge drinking.
What you do away from the holiday dinners and parties is just as important as what you eat and drink at them. Keeping up a regular exercise routine keeps you healthy, reduces stress and burns calories. By keeping your body healthy ahead of the holiday season, you lower the odds of long-term heart problems.
Holidays can be an extremely busy and stressful time of year. Set aside some time to rest and relieve stress — that can make a big difference in heart health, too.
It’s important to be mindful after a night of holiday indulgence, too, Dr. Cho says. Using a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) like Motrin®, Aleve® or Advil® to relieve hangover symptoms can put even more stress on the heart.
“They tend to increase your blood pressure, too,” says Dr. Cho. “So, if they increase your blood pressure, some people end up having heart failure because it’s like a vicious cycle. So, it’s really important just to watch what you’re eating and doing.”
When should you go to the doctor?
First, be sure you’re up-to-date on your own health status. Visit your doctor for regular check-ups and make sure you’re properly treating any heart issues you may have.
If you have a clean bill of health and have not otherwise experienced that irregular heartbeat, the condition should resolve on its own. If issues, including shortness of breath and dizziness, persist, contact your healthcare provider.