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Heart Racing? Holiday Drinking May Lead to This Serious Condition

November 29, 2016

If you’ve ever experienced a racing pulse after excessive holiday drinking, you may have had a serious condition colloquially known as “holiday heart.”

The phrase “holiday heart syndrome” first appeared in 1978. It was and continues to be used as a colloquial term for AFib or atrial fibrillation, a condition for the abnormal heart rhythms that may affect otherwise healthy individuals after excessive alcohol consumption. According to Dr. Marcus Romanello, Fort Hamilton Hospital’s Chief Medical Officer, the most common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include palpitations, irregular pulse, rapid heart rate, the sensation that your heart is racing, or sometimes even passing out. 

What happens during AFib?
Atrial fibrillation is an electrical disorder of the heart where the heart beats out of rhythm. “The top half of the heart is normally in charge of setting the rhythm for the rest of the heart,” says Dr. Romanello. “In atrial fibrillation, instead of squeezing in a normal rhythm, the top of the heart tends to be more vibratory, and it can speed up the heart and diminish circulation.”

Why is it dangerous?

Atrial Fibrillation doubles the risk of heart-related deaths. It could also be one of the first signs of an impending stroke, as the condition is associated with a five-fold increase in the risk of this event. Patients Atrial Fibrillation may be put on blood thinners because the irregular rhythm of the heart could cause a blood clot to break off, enter the blood stream, and lodge in an artery leading to the brain.  

When to seek help

If you are experiencing rapid or irregular heart palpitations, or feel that you may pass out, visit the emergency center right away. A full-service facility like Fort Hamilton Hospital, with on-site cardiovascular surgeons and electro cardiologists on staff, can treat your condition quickly.

Avoiding the risk of “holiday heart”

 “Heavy alcohol use over time is associated with higher rates of atrial fibrillation,” says Dr. Romanello. “So people who drink more heavily have higher rates. As we age we have higher rates of atrial fibrillation and it’s not exactly clear how alcohol directly affects the heart in periods of overindulgence, but it certainly can cause the phenomenon called Holiday Heart Syndrome.”

At the end of the day, there is a simple way to reduce your risk of “holiday heart.” As with so many things in life, “Everything in moderation,” says Dr. Romanello.