When you’re celebrating during the holiday season, you have to be careful—especially if you’re celebrating with alcohol. Not only do you have to be concerned about the typical effects of alcohol, but drinking too much, too fast, can cause your heart to speed up and become irregular.
You could feel chest discomfort and shortness of breath. You may think you’re having a heart attack, but in most cases, you’re not. It’s called Holiday Heart Syndrome and sends thousands of people to the emergency department every year.
Holiday Heart Syndrome is often triggered by binge drinking. It most commonly refers to the association between alcohol use and heart rhythm disturbances. Most often, the alcohol triggers an episode of atrial fibrillation.
Researchers with the American Heart Association say when you start drinking, the alcohol acts as a vasodilator. That means it opens your blood vessels, increase blood flow, and causes your heart rate to go up. Up to 60% of people who engage in heavy binge drinking develop episodes of atrial fibrillation.
If your doctor does an electrocardiogram, the results will show atrial fibrillation. One study found alcohol causing 35 percent of new-onset atrial fibrillation cases. And more than 60 percent of the patients are younger than 65 years. Another study showed only about 5-10% of all new episodes of atrial fibrillation to be explainable by alcohol use.
In some cases, your atrial fibrillation could expose underlying heart disease. Sometimes it has no identifiable cause, but with holiday heart syndrome; alcohol is involved.
Alcohol is a proven trigger of holiday heart syndrome. But it can also occur as a result of things like:
Moderate alcohol use for healthy adults means up to one drink a day for women of all ages and men older than age 65. If you’re a man whose 65 or younger, you’re allowed up to two drinks a day.
Your risk of developing an irregular heartbeat goes up during the holidays because many people who don’t typically drink that often, will get caught up in the spirit of the season and celebrate with a few drinks—especially at a party. In fact, studies show your risk of alcohol-induced atrial fibrillation can double if your daily alcohol intake exceeds 6 drinks.
As scary as it might be, going from a holiday party to the hospital, most people who experience holiday heart syndrome fully recover. Just remember, a “binge” of almost anything can poison an otherwise healthy heart, and damage a sick one.If you’d like more tips to keep your heart healthy on a holiday, or any day, check out our free guide “Heart Disease Facts That Could Save Your Life.”