This term refers to the irregular cardiac arrhythmias that are known to occur around holiday time — often in young, healthy people after they've been drinking heavily for several days. (In this case, "heavily" means three or more drinks a day for women and four or more for men.)
How does it happen? Acute alcohol ingestion can cause short circuits in the heart’s electrical rhythm, increases in levels of free fatty acids in the blood, and surges in adrenaline and other stress hormones.
In some people, even modest amounts of alcohol (as little as one drink) can cause holiday heart syndrome. And it's often exacerbated by stress, overeating, ingesting too much sodium, dehydration, and lack of sleep — all common around the holidays.
What You Need To Know
If you feel little flutters or extra heartbeats in your chest for a few seconds, especially after drinking, then you might be experiencing holiday heart syndrome. It will typically go away on its own as the alcohol leaves your body.
The one type of palpitation you should worry about is atrial fibrillation. With atrial fibrillation, the symptoms are more severe: You might notice shortness of breath, fatigue, and dizziness along with palpitations and sometimes chest pain that lasts for minutes. Atrial fibrillation isn't harmless and could lead to stroke or heart attack. If you experience these conditions, call a doctor and if the symptoms seem extreme, take a trip to the emergency room.
To help avoid holiday heart syndrome, I recommend that women limit themselves to one drink a day or less (men should stick to two or fewer). You should also drink plenty of water, practice deep breathing or yoga during this busy time of year, and try to reduce holiday stress.