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Heart Smart Living
Heart Smart Living

Cardiologist, author, and heart health expert Dr. Sarah Samaan offers advice on how to live a heart smart life.

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Holiday Heart: Too Many Glad Tidings Can Land You in the ER

At least a couple of times every holiday season, I am called to the emergency room (ER) to see a patient with what we doctors euphemistically call “Holiday Heart.” This condition may afflict folks of any age, including otherwise healthy young to middle age adults, and is usually the result of a bout of binge drinking. In some cases, just two or three drinks can trigger the syndrome. The next day, our hapless patient awakens feeling his or her heart racing and skipping. Often there is dizziness and shortness of breath with seemingly mild exertion. In the ER, the electrocardiogram (EKG) shows a rhythm that we call atrial fibrillation

What does Holiday Heart mean?

Atrial fibrillation is a rapid and erratic rhythm which happens when the top chambers of the heart (the atria) stop contracting regularly and instead start twitching, or fibrillating. If the rhythm goes on long enough (generally more than 24 hours), there is a potential for blood clots to form inside the atria. If these clots leave the heart, they can sometimes lead to a stroke. Because of this, people with atrial fibrillation are often hospitalized and put on blood thinners. Many times the rhythm will simply resolve itself. Other times, medication or an electrical cardioversion (a procedure in which the heart rhythm is electrically “reset” by shocking the heart while our patient is under anesthesia) is required.

Is there a way to predict Holiday Heart?

Not everyone who over imbibes will wake up with Holiday Heart, but if you’ve had it once, it’s likely to happen again. It makes sense to limit alcohol to one to two drinks for safety’s sake, and also to avoid those unwanted calories. If you’re out celebrating, make sure to drink plenty of water, choose healthy party snacks over fried finger foods, and appoint a designated driver. You can have fun, stay safe, and wake up the next morning with no regrets.

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Tags: Alcohol and the Heart

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About the Author


Dr. Samaan is an acclaimed cardiologist, writer, and heart health educator.