Chattanooga cardiologist explains holiday heart syndrome

Q: I've heard of a condition called holiday heart syndrome. Is this real?

A: Holiday heart syndrome refers to an irregular heart rhythm, specifically atrial fibrillation, that is triggered by excessive alcohol consumption, stress and dehydration — factors commonly associated with the holiday season. It was first identified in the late 1970s when researchers observed an increase in patients presenting with atrial fibrillation after weekends or holidays, during which alcohol intake tends to be higher.

The symptoms of holiday heart syndrome are similar to those of atrial fibrillation and may include palpitations, chest discomfort, shortness of breath and dizziness. It's important to note that not everyone who consumes alcohol during the holidays will experience the condition, but individuals with a history of heart problems may be more susceptible.

The exact mechanisms are not fully understood, but it is believed that excessive alcohol intake can disrupt the normal electrical signals in the heart, leading to irregular heart rhythms. Additionally, alcohol can cause dehydration and electrolyte imbalances, both of which can contribute to heart rhythm disturbances.

There are several steps individuals can take to reduce the risk of holiday heart syndrome:

— Limit alcohol intake. If you choose to drink alcohol during the holidays, do so in moderation. It's recommended women limit themselves to one drink per day and men to two drinks per day.

— Stay hydrated. Ensure you stay well hydrated by drinking plenty of water, especially if you consume alcoholic beverages.

— Manage stress. The holiday season can be stressful, so finding healthy ways to manage stress, such as exercise, meditation or deep breathing, can be beneficial.

— Know your limits. If you have a history of heart problems or are taking medications, consult with your health care provider about your alcohol consumption limits.

If you experience symptoms such as rapid or irregular heartbeats, chest pain or severe shortness of breath, it's crucial to seek immediate medical attention. A health care professional can perform an evaluation, including an electrocardiogram, to diagnose and determine the appropriate course of action.

Remember, while holiday heart syndrome is associated with the holiday season, taking steps to prioritize your heart health through moderation and self-care can help ensure a joyful and healthy celebration.

Dr. Harish Manyam is a cardiologist with Erlanger Heart & Lung Institute and a member of the Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society.

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