“Never in the history of our field have there been so many patients lining up to see us,” he said.
What causes holiday heart?
Doctors are still trying to understand exactly how alcohol affects the heart, Dr. Marcus said. One working theory is that alcohol induces alterations in your nervous system, which typically regulates heart rate. Excessive alcohol may also change the electrical signals within your heart, which coordinate the contraction of your cardiac cells.
Over the last 10 years, scientists have strengthened the link between alcohol and A-fib. One study showed that just a single drink a day can raise the risk of A-fib by 16 percent. But even though alcohol increases your chance of developing A-fib, that increased chance may not be drastic for the average person.
“If on a given day, the chance of you having A-fib tomorrow is one in 1,000 — if you have a glass of beer or wine tonight, maybe it’s three in 1,000,” Dr. Calkins said. But people of all ages should still be aware of the warning signs, he added.
People tend to ignore their symptoms over the holidays and wait until the new year to get medical attention, Dr. Ruthmann said, but it’s critical to seek out care if you have a persistent racing heartbeat and chest pain, or if you’re struggling to breathe. Dizziness and feeling lightheaded or confused can also indicate a cardiac issue. “Every second counts when it comes to the heart,” Dr. Ruthmann said.
How to protect your heart during the holidays
Limiting the amount of alcohol you consume may help protect the heart — but for those who choose to drink, here are a few ways to stay heart-healthy:
If you’re drinking over the holidays, make sure to have a full glass of water between each beverage, Dr. Ruthmann said. Dehydration increases the risk of holiday heart syndrome, Dr. Brown said, and so it’s essential to make sure you stay hydrated.
Don’t skip medication.
Many people leave their heart or blood pressure medication behind in the shuffle of traveling to see family and friends, thinking they can go a few days without them, Dr. Ruthmann said. But it’s important to keep taking medication as scheduled.
Find time for fitness.
Moderate exercise may help buffer against A-fib. If you have a regular exercise routine that you can’t get to during the holidays, find some time for a modified workout — even if that’s just a walk around the block.
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