Beware ‘holiday heart syndrome’

Health
Friends celebrating over the holidays

As the classic Christmas tune reminds us throughout the month of December: It’s the most wonderful time of the year. For many people, the holidays are a time to come together with family and friends to enjoy each other’s company. There are festivities and parties galore – often centering around food and drink.
But that can present a problem. Overindulgence, especially when it comes to alcohol, can make your holidays not so wonderful—in fact, it can make the season downright dangerous.
“The holidays are a great time of year, but it’s still important people are careful about what they eat and drink,” says Julie Pope, director of heart and vascular services at Tidelands Health. “If you are going to consume alcohol, moderation is key.”
One concern this time of year is a condition known as “holiday heart syndrome.” It is characterized by the development of an an irregular heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation following heavy alcohol consumption.

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The condition earned its moniker 40 years ago after many years of physicians observing an uptick in arrhythmias during and after the holidays.
In some cases, atrial fibrillation is temporary; in others, it can require medical intervention to halt. The condition can be deadly because it has the potential to cause sudden cardiac death or lead to stroke-causing blood clots.
“What makes holiday heart syndrome especially concerning is that it can strike a person regardless of whether he or she has an existing heart condition,” says Pope. “It often happens in otherwise healthy people.”
If at any point during the holidays, whether after consuming alcohol or not, you develop concerns about your heart rhythm or health, seek medical help, Pope says. It’s better to be overly cautious than to take risks.
“It can be tempting to overlook health concerns during the holidays because you don’t want to interrupt the festivities,” she says. “But the speed at which you receive medical care can make a tremendous difference in outcomes.”
Enjoy the holidays, she says, just be mindful and make responsible choices.
“There’s so much to appreciate during the holidays, especially the time with friends and family,” she says. “Have fun, just keep in mind that whatever time of year, the choices we make can impact our health.”

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