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Holiday Heart Syndrome: The Common Ailment You’ve Never Heard of

Ahh, the holidays! That time of year when overindulgence is king with parties, family and office gatherings galore. A time to treat yourself to that extra cocktail or slice of cheesecake. But, before you pour yourself another glass of spiked eggnog or grab that crab rangoon at the office party, there’s a little-known consequence to all of this that you should know about: Holiday Heart Syndrome.   

Holiday Heart Syndrome was identified back 1978 by Dr. Philip Ettinger who noted more emergency room visits due to irregular heart rhythms or cardiac distress during the holidays due to overindulgence of alcohol, but this has been expanded to include food and stress 

We tend to eat more around the holidays, including richer foods, along with more alcohol and increased sodium, all of which can be the perfect storm to put undue stress on your body, especially your heart.   

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reportsthat over half of American men report binge drinking once a month averaging eight drinks per binging session. And it isn’t just men, it’s important for women to be mindful as well. There’s a correlation with binge drinking and heart arrhythmias including atrial fibrillation or A-fib so being aware of your drinking during the holidays is key. 

Tips to prevent Holiday Heart Syndrome 

The word moderation isn’t something we like to hear, especially at the holidays, but remember how you feel when you’ve overindulged? It never feels good, so think about that when you’re eyeing the dessert table or that extra cocktail and what it’s doing to your body, especially your heart.  

Of course, it’s fine to enjoy some treats and extra drinks at this time of the year but go easy. These tips can help: 

  • Stay hydrated: With all the running around and stress of the holidays, coupled with colder, drier conditions, you may not be staying as hydrated as you need. Make sure that you have water with you as you travel or visit with friends and family. For every alcoholic beverage consumed, balance it with a glass of water as alcohol dehydrates your body even further. 
  • Don’t hit the rich foods as hard: The holiday buffet with desserts and appetizers galore…instead of diving in, be more mindful of what you’re taking and instead of grabbing a dinner sized plate, grab a small appetizer plate. Go easy on the cheeses, meats, pates and foods high in sodium. Your heart and body will thank you.  
  • Don’t binge or drink more alcohol than you normally do: It’s hard to say that especially during the holidays but each drink adds up. Stop at one or two drinks and then grab a seltzer water so you can still enjoy the party with a drink in your hand but you’re not going to go overboard and you’ll stay better hydrated in the process. You’ll also feel a whole lot better the next morning! 

Always go to the ER if you have any heart symptoms 

The biggest takeaway about Holiday Heart Syndrome is never second guess your symptoms. It’s always better to err on the side of caution if you have fluttering of the heart, shortness of breath or you just don’t feel right. You may have Holiday Heart Syndrome, but you could also be having a legitimate heart situation so always go to the ER or call an ambulance. Better to be wrong and be sent home than put off treatment that could save your life!  

If you’re concerned about the price tag of a trip to the ER, you’re not alone. Nearly one-third of full-time employees have less than $1,000 saved to deal with unexpected medical expenses. Make sure to check your Medicare coverage or health insurance through your employer to understand what is covered so you’re prepared. 

Want to find ways to reduce your stress at the holidays? Read our 9 Tips to Destress Your Holiday Gatherings.  

Bankers Life is here to help customers with their financial and insurance needs so please visit us at to learn more. 

Bankers Life is a private company that is not Medicare, Medicaid or MaineCare and is not a governmental agency