Don’t Let ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’ Kill You

Between Christmas and New Years, the holidays are a time to party, and lots of people go into these evenings making peace with the fact that they’ll be hurting from a hangover the next morning. Few consider how the heavy drinking could actually kill them.

No, we’re not talking about drunk driving accidents. Though, just to be clear, the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety did find that “the average number of deaths from alcohol-related crashes on New Year’s Day was almost 150 percent higher than the average for the same day of the week during the holiday season.”

What we’re talking about in this case is Holiday Heart Syndrome — where heavy drinking can trigger an abnormal heart rhythm known as atrial fibrillation, which in some instances can lead to a stroke. Reporter Stephanie O’Neill from Southern California Public Radio station KPCC revealed, “It’s a term researchers originated in the 1970s after observing that atrial fibrillation induced by excess alcohol consumption often happens around weekends or holidays.”

The Mayo Clinic defines binge drinking as five drinks in two hours for men and four drinks in two hours for women. That isn’t an impossible amount to consume when you think about it. Most people begin with one or two cocktails, but then come shots or mixing alcohol types. That “little extra,” as well as no water or food, can impair once’s judgement, causing the cycle to increase. And when you’re having fun and someone offers you a refill, it’s easy enough to go from tipsy to drunk to sick.

That said, fewer than five drinks can still cause atrial fibrillation. Cardiologist Eric Buch, director of the Specialized Program for Atrial Fibrillation at UCLA’s Cardiac Arrhythmia Center, notes the Framingham study, which showed that consumption of over three drinks per day was associated with a 35 percent increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

The easiest way to avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome is obvious: watch your alcohol intake. Teaming up with someone will let you have a good time, and you can help one another watch how much you’re drinking. Consuming one glass of water between each alcoholic beverage is another good way to not only keep yourself from over-indulging, but has also been shown to help combat hangovers.

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