The holidays are all about good times with friends and family and most of us are planning on having elaborate events to catch up and bond with our loved ones. However, those happy moments often lead to a little overindulgence.
We will not think twice about having another beer or an extra glass of wine. What we do not realise is that our holiday alcohol indulgence can be detrimental to our heart.
Peter* was a healthy middle aged man who exercised regularly and tried to live a healthy lifestyle. He went for annual check-ups and his doctor had always given him a clean bill of health. He indulged in the occasional alcoholic drink but often restricted himself to one or two drinks per sitting.
During the Easter holidays, he sat down to have a couple of drinks with friends. By his fourth drink, he begun to feel distinctly unwell.
His heart was racing and he could almost feel it pounding in his chest. He felt light-headed and dizzy.
When his friends brought him to the hospital, he was found to have an irregular heartbeat. Peter was shocked, his cardiac examination done during his last check-up showed that he had a completely healthy heart.
He simply could not understand what was going on. He was admitted for observation and after about 18 hours, his heart beat went back to normal.
After exhaustive tests, he was diagnosed with ‘“Holiday Heart Syndrome”. He was discharged and a follow-up over the past six months has shown that his heartbeat is still normal.
Holiday Heart Syndrome is an irregular heartbeat pattern that occurs in otherwise healthy individuals who have had an alcoholic drink.
It was first observed in the 1970s amongst patients brought into hospital with sudden onset of palpitations/irregular heartbeats (in some cases, it was associated with shortness of breath and light-headedness).
All the people were relatively healthy but had one thing in common — they had all had an alcoholic binge prior to the onset of the palpitations.
Typically, the irregular heartbeat that occurs in holiday heart syndrome resolves once you stop drinking and the alcohol clears from your system.
Although, the irregular heart beat is often without complications, it can put you at risk for heart failure or stroke (if it persists).
You, unfortunately, cannot predict whose heart will be affected by the occasional binge intake of alcohol. Long term alcoholics all go on to develop heart damage after years of overindulgence.
However, holiday heart syndrome can even affect the occasional drinker who goes over his usual limit or even a “first-time” drinker.
The exact reason for this is not well known.
What makes it worse?
Excessive caffeine intake: taking in drinks high in caffeine such as energy drinks or coffee liqueurs can make your palpitations worse.
Lack of sleep: this increases your stress levels and can make your symptoms worse.
Eating too much in one sitting can make it worse, especially foods high in salt.
What should you do?
If you do experience a racing heart whilst drinking an alcoholic beverage, stop taking it. Note the time it has started. Inform someone around you. If the episode is persistent, or is accompanied by chest pain, shortness of breath or fainting, go to the hospital immediately.
If the feelings subside within minutes, ensure you schedule an appointment with your doctor and have yourself thoroughly examined. (In addition, if the palpitations stop within a few minutes, it is not a licence for you to continue with your alcoholic drink. Switch to something non-alcoholic).
Is Christmas the season of heart attacks?
Interestingly, an American study on heart attacks, found that there is an increase in their number during the festive season.
Some hospitals found that the highest number of heart attacks occurred on Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New years’ Day/eve as compared to other days of the year.