Holiday Heart Syndrome: What It Is and How to Avoid It
While the holidays can bring lots of joy, they can also lead to something known as Holiday Heart Syndrome. Here is a look at everything you need to know about the condition, and how to avoid it.
The holiday period, which starts around Thanksgiving and runs through New Year’s Day, is both a joyous and a stressful time for many. It can wreak havoc on our mental and physical health, due to everything from an excessive amount of alcohol, caffeine, sugar- and fat-laden foods to family arguments, battling traffic and those last-minute shopping crowds. All of that puts a lot of stress on the body and can lead to all sorts of health problems.
What exactly is Holiday Heart Syndrome, and is it a real illness?
The term Holiday Heart Syndrome was something that was coined in the 1970s in order to describe a patient who presented with an acute disturbance of heart rhythm, and had consumed an excessive amount of alcohol, typically during a Christmas or other type of holiday event.
Most of the time, it occurs in those who are considered to be generally healthy, and don’t have any predisposing factors for abnormal heart rhythms, known as arrhythmias. Most of the time, the condition resolves itself without intervention once the alcohol breaks down and is excreted by the body.
Today, we know that these acute supraventricular arrhythmias, AKA holiday heart syndrome, may occur in a person who is undergoing a high amount of stress, is suffering from dehydration, or illness.
This is a very real condition that puts the heart at a greater risk of arrhythmias. Multiple studies have found a link between overindulging in alcohol, or binge drinking, and the onset of heart rhythm disturbance. The most common type is atrial fibrillation, which is when the top chambers of the heart known as the atrium fibrillate, or quiver, which causes the heart to not only beat faster, but to beat irregularly. (1)
The Best Ways to Avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome
To avoid developing Holiday Heart Syndrome, remember that when it comes to pretty much everything, moderation is key. It’s also important to take time for self-care, including getting plenty of rest and engaging in regular stress relief practices.
You can help ensure a happy, Holiday Heart Syndrome-free season by following these tips:
From all of those potlucks and parties at work, to holiday events with friends and family, there are tempting, unhealthy treats everywhere you go. While you don’t have to forego them completely, be sure to monitor your portion sizes and avoid overindulging. During this time of year the average American is said to gain five to 10 pounds – that’s a lot of weight to put on over such a short period. By eating responsibly you can avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome as well as all of those unwanted pounds.
To make it a bit easier, never go to event when you’re famished. Eat something healthy first to take the edge off hunger, and when you’re there, choose a small portion of one favorite dessert, or enjoy a few sample sizes of several treats. Avoid dishes that are heavily-cream based, and don’t go back for seconds.
Watch Your Consumption of Caffeine and Alcohol
Caffeine is dehydrating, which can cause electrolyte disturbances in the body, as well as lead to insomnia and precipitate arrhythmias. Don’t overdo the caffeine in an effort to keep yourself going and going when your body is trying to tell you that what it needs is rest. Alcohol, as mentioned, also causes problems, not only does it lead to dehydration, but binge drinking can have serious consequences. Alcohol is also one of the biggest culprits of consuming an excessive amount of calories over the holidays.
Limit Your Salt Intake
While the body does need some salt, consuming too much can cause it to hold onto fluids, which in turn can lead to high blood pressure. That rise in blood pressure, particularly in those with a history of hypertension or heart failure, combined with a greater amount of fluid in the body, can precipitate atrial fibrillation. Consuming excess salt, especially if you’ve had congestive heart failure, should be avoided at all costs as it may increase the odds of heart failure, as well as potentially causing swelling and shortness of breath.
Exercising regularly is important year round, but it’s even more critical during the holidays. Aim to get at least 150 minutes each week throughout this period, as it will help to relieve stress as well as burn off all those additional calories you’re taking in. In addition to aerobic exercise, which will support cardiovascular health and help protect you from stroke or heart attack, resistance training (such as weight lifting) is a great way to keep your metabolism going at its max, while helping you burn more calories all day long.
Take Time to Breathe
Of course you’re breathing in and out as long as you’re still alive, but most of us tend to take shallow breaths, using only the top third of our lungs, which is a stress-triggered way to breathe. Taking time out each day to relax, breathing deeply in and out, is a great way to relieve all of that holiday stress as well as to lower heart rate and blood pressure. Try to schedule just 10 minutes every day that you can enjoy all to yourself, in a quiet space, to practice breathing exercises or meditation.
Watch For Symptoms of Holiday Heart Syndrome
While it’s important to be proactive, and avoid developing Holiday Heart Syndrome in the first place, keep an eye out for symptoms. While it usually isn’t life threatening, they shouldn’t be ignored, as they could be signs of other more serious problems.
Some of the symptoms of Holiday Heart Syndrome include:
- Shortness of breath (particularly when exerting yourself)
- Chest discomfort
- Feeling faint
- Palpitations (a racing or skipped heartbeat, or feeling pounding in the chest)
- Rapid pulse
- Ankle swelling
Let This Be the Season You Don’t Overdo It
While this may be considered the season of overindulging, it doesn’t have to be. You can still celebrate, have a joyous holiday and not have to pay for regretful actions when the New Year rolls around.
How Probiotics Can Help During This Holiday
It may be hard to resist all the delicious goodness on our tables during this time of the year and digestive troubles are common, especially during the holiday season. A quality Probiotic can help you maintain a healthy gut so you can maximize the fun and joy this season brings.
A high-quality probiotic can pack billions of beneficial, living microbes that might help you enjoy your holiday feast by reducing the indigestion and bloating that may otherwise follow. Schwartz Bioresearch probiotic supplement guarantee high-quality, shelf stable probiotic strains which maintain at least 20 billion CFU until the labelled expiration date and survive harsh stomach acids to reach the intestinal tract where they exert their greatest benefits.