WESTCHESTER COUNTY, N.Y. — If you’re planning to overindulge during the holidays, you might need to watch out for “holiday heart” syndrome.
Holiday heart syndrome can manifest “when people develop arrhythmias, or irregular heartbeats,” said Robert Pilchik, M.D., chief of cardiology at Northern Westchester Hospital. Arrhythmias are irregularities of pulse or heart rhythm, such as when the heart beats either too quickly (tachycardia) or too slowly (bradycardia).
And Steven F. Horowitz, M.D, chief of cardiology at Stamford Hospital in Connecticut, warns that even those with no history of heart disease are at risk for this cardiac event — which typically lasts for a short period of time — even after just one night of heavy drinking.
The syndrome, said Pilchik, is not necessarily limited to holidays: “Any situation where there is so-called ‘binge’ behavior — vacations and college reunions among them — can manifest in holiday heart,” said Pilchick. But a prolonged period of party-going, such as during the months between Thanksgiving and New Year’s, can increase a person’s risk for experiencing symptoms.
Holiday heart can be harmless and usually dissipates within 24 hours. But, if you are experiencing palpitations and/or your heart is racing, and if you feel dizziness, shortness of breath or any other potentially dangerous symptoms — during the holiday season or at any time — Pilchik strongly urges you to seek immediate medical care at a nearby emergency room.
How can you prevent holiday heart?
“Abstinence,” said Pilchik. But barring that, he added: “The phenomenon generally doesn’t happen with less than moderate amounts of alcohol.”
In addition, you can decrease your chance of experiencing holiday heart by consuming less high-fat and high-sodium foods, as well as maintaining your usual exercise routine as much as possible.
"By all means, go to the holiday parties," Horowitz said. "Just avoid overdoing it."