December 13, 2018
The holidays are filled with events, foods and activities that you only get to do once a year — that’s why this season is so magical and exciting.
One thing that’s definitely more acceptable during the holidays than any other time of year is drinking more than usual. But celebrants should know an increase in imbibing can bring on the warm and fuzzy-sounding “holiday heart syndrome,” that will likely leave you feeling warm, but definitely not fuzzy.
Holiday heart syndrome is an acute cardiac rhythm and/or conduction disturbance associated with alcohol consumption. If you’ve ever noticed that after a few drinks, your heart started pounding at a noticeable and concerning rate, you were probably experiencing holiday heart.
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This random heart episode can even happen to people who are completely healthy and bear no previous heart problems — that’s what makes it so scary.
According to Greatist, your heart may pound or beat irregularly in a misfiring pattern known as atrial fibrillation, or you may even feel lightheaded, faint, or short of breath. And symptoms are usually quite noticeable, so you’ll know if you’re experiencing it.
Certain, unfortunate people can be slightly more susceptible to holiday heart, Greatist noted. For the very sensitive, just one drink can precipitate heart arrhythmias. Plus, stress and dehydration — two additional hallmarks of the holidays — also appear to play a role in increased risk. Most people, however, only experience an episode of holiday heart syndrome after binge-drinking.
Of course, holiday heart can present itself anytime you drink too much, not just during the holidays. But the facts are that people drink way more than usual during the holiday season — a recent poll found that people admit to drinking twice as much this time of year. Not to mention the frequency increases, as social engagements jump from taking place once a week on average, to three times a week during the holidays, the New York Post reports. Further, a quarter of annual distilled spirit sales occur between Thanksgiving and Christmas, according to Alcohol.org.
The good news is that if a thumping heart or an erratic pulse flares up after a few cups of spiked cider, you probably don’t need to freak out. The best thing to do is stop drinking. Most cases of holiday heart syndrome resolve within a few hours or up to a day.
If you experience shortness of breath, lightheadedness, or feeling faint (or actually fainting) after alcohol consumption, go to the hospital right away, Dr. Nieca Goldberg, cardiologist and medical director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, told Greatist.
As for the long-term effects of a bout of holiday heart, if you aren’t binge drinking during the rest of the year, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. It’s worth noting, however, that long-term alcohol abuse can cause some more serious heart issues down the line — namely, alcoholic cardiomyopathy (weakening of the heart muscle), according to Healthline.
The CDC defines binge drinking as five or more drinks in about two hours for men and four or more drinks for women. If that describes you, in general or during the holidays, perhaps some mocktails should be put into the mix at holiday parties this year.