The “holiday heart syndrome” which increases heart attacks between Christmas and New Year

During the Christmas holidays, which are not limited to the days immediately before and after Christmas but also include the New Year celebrations, a significant increase in heart attack episodes is observed compared to other periods of the year. This phenomenon cannot be attributed to a joke or a strange coincidence, but is supported by data that indicates a high number of people at risk of dying from heart attacks. But what is the reason for this correlation?

What is “Holiday Heart Syndrome”

The “Holiday Heart Syndrome”, also known as “Holiday Heart Syndrome”, it was first identified in 1978 in the United States. This syndrome has been associated with high alcohol intake and cardiac arrhythmias. According to Professor Michael Chen, medical director of the Cardiac Catheterization Laboratory at Adventist HealthCare in Maryland, during the holiday season, due to an increase in celebrations and family gatherings, there is an increase in alcohol consumption. This excessive consumption can trigger cardiac arrhythmias.

Chen explained to Wtop News that during the holidays, people tend to drink more consistently, which can lead to excessive alcohol consumption, a factor known to contribute to cardiac arrhythmias. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), hangovers are defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks on a single occasion for men and four or more for women. This increase in alcohol consumption during the holidays may therefore contribute to the higher frequency of “Holiday Heart Syndrome” episodes.

Increased risk between alcohol and food

From company dinners to aperitifs with friends, from Christmas Eve to New Year’s Eve and beyond, it is important to consider the significant increase in alcohol consumption during the holidays. Often, the consumption of alcoholic beverages is so integrated into the festive culture that we tend to forget that alcohol is a toxic substance for the body, even in small doses and especially for the heart.

Professor Claudio Tondo, Director of the Department of Arrhythmology of the Monzino Cardiology Center, IRCCS, underlines that excessive doses of alcohol have an exciting effect on heart cells. This can lead to an increase in heart rate and promote the onset of conditions such as atrial fibrillation. It is important to note that chronic alcohol intake in significant quantities may contribute to the development of dilated cardiomyopathy, causing an increase in the volumes of the cardiac chambers (atria and ventricles) and a reduction in their contractile capacity, two key factors in the onset of atrial fibrillation.

Professor Tondo also warns against the risk of alcohol-induced heart rhythm abnormalities, which often occur in conjunction with increased dietary intake. Therefore, it is advisable to moderate not only alcohol consumption but also the amount of food during the holidays to preserve heart health.

The lethal mix

The Christmas holidays and the subsequent New Year, with the celebrations so close together, can have a significant impact on our health, as well as on the scale. A study has shown that even just one drink a day can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation up to 16%. If on any given day the chance of developing atrial fibrillation is one in 1,000, drinking a glass of beer or wine can increase this chance to 3 in 1,000.

Atrial fibrillation therefore represents a serious danger. Professor Tondo explains that it is an irregularity in the heartbeat, one of the most widespread disorders. With this condition, the heart does not beat regularly, compromising its ability to pump blood efficiently and increasing the risk of dangerous clots forming. There Atrial fibrillation is associated with an increased risk of stroke and has also been linked to problems such as dementia and heart failure. Therefore, it is crucial to carefully consider alcohol consumption during the holidays in order to preserve heart health.

The elderly, obese and tall people are at risk

It is important to note that while alcohol consumption can be harmful to everyone, there are categories of people who are more at risk of developing atrial fibrillation. For example, at age 80, there is about a 10% chance of having this disorder. Other risk factors include obesity, a family history of early-onset atrial fibrillation, and even height (one study found a greater risk in people over 1.70 cm).

To spot any problems related to atrial fibrillation, it is important to be aware of the symptoms. Some people may not experience any symptoms, while others may experience heart palpitations, chest pain, shortness of breath, extreme tiredness, or even fainting. The duration and frequency of symptoms can vary: atrial fibrillation may only occur for short periods in some individuals, while in others it can become a permanent condition.

Currently, the smartwatches with heart rate monitors are becoming more and more popular and they allow people to self-monitor changes in their heart rhythm. This can be a useful way to detect any abnormalities early and then consult a cardiologist for a more in-depth evaluation.

The advices

Approaching the celebrations with awareness can help limit health risks. If you still want to toast following tradition, you can take some precautions. Firstly, it is advisable to drink water during the celebrations, as dehydration can increase the risk of developing “holiday heart syndrome”. Additionally, it’s important not to completely stop exercising over the holiday period. Even a short walk can have health benefits.

It is useful to keep in mind the quantities of alcohol considered “low risk”, which are generally established at 1 glass of wine, 1 can of beer or 1 small glass of spirits per day for women and the elderly, and 2 for men. However, it is important to note that these amounts should not be considered healthy, and the best goal would be to avoid excessive alcohol consumption. In recent years, increasingly clear evidence has emerged of cause-and-effect relationships between alcohol consumption and various types of cancers and over 200 health problems, without considering road accidents. Therefore, the safest rule remains zero alcohol consumption.