image of people gathered at the dinner table for the holidays
Julie Hambleton
Julie Hambleton
December 19, 2023 ·  4 min read

Doctors Warn of ‘Holiday Heart’ Syndrome This Winter – Here’s What to Watch Out For

The holiday season is in full-swing, and with it comes a time of celebration, joy, and indulgence. You’ve got your company holiday party and that of your partner. There are endless get-togethers with friends, family dinners, and other holiday-related events where you eat, drink, and be merry. While it can be a wonderful time of connection and celebration, it is also a time of over-eating, too much alcohol, and stress. It is also a time when doctors often see an increase in cases of a condition known as ‘holiday heart’ syndrome. This condition primarily affects individuals who tend to consume excessive amounts of alcohol during festive gatherings. This is everything you need to know about this dangerous syndrome – and how to avoid it.

What is holiday heart syndrome?

Holiday heart syndrome is a term used to describe an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation (AF). It is usually triggered by excessive alcohol consumption. Atrial fibrillation is a condition characterized by an irregular and rapid heartbeat, often described as a fluttering sensation in the chest. Doctor Jen Ashton describes it as “electrical disturbances in the heart rhythm that’s seen around December holidays”. (1)

What causes holiday heart syndrome?

The exact cause of holiday heart syndrome is not yet fully understood, but it is believed that excessive alcohol consumption plays a significant role. Alcohol is known to disrupt the normal electrical signaling of the heart, leading to abnormal heart rhythms such as atrial fibrillation. Additionally, dehydration resulting from alcohol consumption can further exacerbate the condition. (2)

“It’s not a surprise that during [the] December holiday season, whatever holidays you might be observing, that there’s more alcohol consumption.” Dr. Aston told ABC News.

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Signs and symptoms to watch out for

This syndrome can be very dangerous, as it can lead to other, potentially fatal, heart problems. It is essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of holiday heart syndrome, as early detection can lead to timely intervention and better outcomes. Some common signs and symptoms to watch out for include (3):

  1. Irregular and rapid heartbeat
  2. Palpitations or thumping sensations in the chest
  3. Shortness of breath
  4. Fatigue or weakness
  5. Dizziness or lightheadedness
  6. Fainting or near-fainting episodes
  7. Chest pain or discomfort

If you experience any of these symptoms, it is crucial to seek medical attention promptly.

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Prevention of holiday heart syndrome

Prevention is key when it comes to holiday heart syndrome. Thankfully, prevention is relatively simple – all you have to do is keep your holiday enjoyment under control. Here are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk:

  1. Limit alcohol consumption: It is important to moderate your alcohol intake or abstain completely, especially if you are prone to heart rhythm disturbances. If you do consume alcohol, do so in moderation and ensure you stay hydrated by drinking plenty of water. Now, there are plenty of non-alcoholic beverages available to you, such as 0% beers, cocktails, and even alcohol-free champagne. Use these to help you limit the amount of alcohol you are consuming while still feeling as though you are participating in the holiday fun. Try replacing every other drink with an alcohol-free one, or go a full party sober.
  2. Maintain a healthy lifestyle: Prioritize your overall health by exercising regularly, eating a balanced diet, and getting enough sleep. A healthy lifestyle can contribute to a healthier heart and reduce the likelihood of heart rhythm irregularities. This includes doing your best to eat healthfully during the holidays. Keep your non-party meals full of fresh vegetables and heart-healthy fats, don’t eat too much sugar, and mind your portions at dinners and cocktail parties.
  3. Manage stress: The holiday season can be stressful, so it is important to find healthy ways to manage stress. Engage in activities that help you relax, such as yoga, meditation, or spending time with loved ones. Try to slow down and remember that you don’t have to say yes to everything. Only attend events you really want to and prioritize time with your loved ones – as well as your own recharge time.
  4. Seek medical advice: If you have a known cardiac condition or a history of heart rhythm disturbances, consult your healthcare provider before indulging in excessive alcohol consumption. They can offer specific recommendations tailored to your individual health needs.

What to do if you suspect holiday heart syndrome

If you suspect you are experiencing signs of holiday heart syndrome, it is essential to seek medical attention promptly. Your doctor may conduct a physical examination, perform an electrocardiogram (ECG), and order additional tests to confirm the diagnosis. Treatment options may include medications to control the heart rate or rhythm, lifestyle modifications, and in some cases, procedures such as electrical cardioversion or ablation to restore normal heart rhythm.

Keep Your Heart Healthy This Holiday Season

The holiday season should be a time of joy and festivities. However, it is crucial to be aware of the risks associated with excessive alcohol consumption and the potential development of holiday heart syndrome. By adopting a responsible approach to alcohol consumption, prioritizing self-care, and seeking medical advice when needed, we can safeguard our heart health and ensure a safe and enjoyable holiday season for all.

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  1. What to know about ‘holiday heart’ syndrome.” ABC News. Mason Leib. December 15, 2023.
  2. Holiday Heart Syndrome.” NCBI. Anubhav Jain, Varun S. Yelamanchili, Kristen N. Brown and  Akshay Goel.
  3. Mayo Clinic Minute: Recognizing ‘holiday heart’.” News Network. Jason Howland. December 12, 2022.