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Don’t let holiday heart syndrome derail year-end festivities

The period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve is typically one of celebration, festivities and merrymaking, all of which involve overindulgent eating and drinking. The holiday season, as it is called, is characterized by food containing high levels of salt, sugar, fats and calories, and excessive consumption of alcohol, caffeine and tobacco. Family members are usually stressed and get inadequate sleep due to holiday preparations and eleventh-hour shopping.

These factors can cumulatively exert pressure on the cardiovascular system. This time of the year witnesses a spike in emergency room (ER) visits and hospital admissions for complaints like heart attacks, sudden cardiac arrests and irregular heartbeats. Dubbed as the holiday heart syndrome (HHS), this condition was originally seen in patients without underlying heart ailments. The term was coined in 1978 by physicians to describe irregular heart rhythms experienced during the holiday season after heavy alcohol consumption with atrial fibrillation (AF) being the most frequent arrhythmia.

While HHS can strike anyone due to overindulgence, people with hypertension, diabetes and cholesterol-related issues, or those who are overweight, smoke or have a previous history of heart attacks, are at a greater risk. Symptoms of AF include palpitations, dizziness, shortness of breath, tiredness and chest pain. Underestimating holiday season stress can lead to devastating consequences. While many people survive a heart attack or cardiac arrest, others may not be so fortunate.

Practicing moderation and getting adequate rest is critical

To avoid turning the holiday season into a regretful period, it is advisable to take precautions and practice moderation by taking care of some important points:

  • Strictly limiting alcohol and caffeine: It is essential to consume alcohol in strict moderation – not more than one or two drinks a day for women and one to three drinks for men – during the holiday season. High caffeine consumption needs to be limited since it causes insomnia and can induce hearth rhythm problems.
  • Avoiding overeating: Healthy eating, limiting portion sizes and avoiding multiple helpings should comprise holiday season goals. Food items high in fats, salt and excess calories must be avoided the most.
  • Getting adequate rest: Not only is a good night’s sleep important, it is also essential to relax for a few moments every day. This may require planning in advance to avoid last-minute stressful situations like holiday traffic and crowded shopping malls. Attending parties and get-togethers should also be done in moderation.
  • Exercising: Even a few minutes of daily exercise is helpful in relieving stress and burning off extra calories. Physical activity is beneficial for cardiovascular health and is a protective factor in case of heart attacks and strokes.

Although heavy drinking has been linked to AF, past research found that even light to moderate alcohol consumption is a risk factor for AF. A higher risk for AF was found in case of moderate consumption of liquor and wine.

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA) describes two types of alcohol-induced arrhythmias:

  • AF, which impacts the heart’s upper or atrial chambers, and
  • Ventricular tachycardia (VT or V-tach), which impacts the heart’s lower, or ventricular chambers.

Binge drinking during holiday season can cause the onset of either of these irregularities. Long-term chronic drinking also alters the course of electrical impulses which drives heartbeats, resulting in arrhythmia.

High alcohol consumption a serious concern

According to the 2016 National Survey on Drug Use and Health (NSDUH), 136.7 million Americans aged 12 years or older (50.7 percent of the age group) were past-month alcohol users, while an estimated 65.3 million people (24.2 percent) were binge alcohol users in the past 30 days. Besides impacting the heart, heavy alcohol consumption is associated with several other risk factors, including liver damage, impaired brain functioning, pancreatitis, cancer and a weakened immune system.

Holidays are meant to make merry and celebrate. They should not become unpleasant due to the misuse of alcohol or other substances. Contact the 24/7 Recovery Helpline if you or a loved one is struggling with dependence on alcohol and/or other drugs. Our drug addiction help online and alcohol helpline experts can help you find the right treatment programs. Call at our 24/7 helpline number 855-441-4405 or chat online with our representatives for immediate resolution.

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