Features December 2017 Issue

Celebrate Sensibly to Avoid the Rapid Rhythms of “Holiday Heart Syndrome”

If you are a light drinker, imbibing too much alcohol at a holiday party could land you in the emergency department with alcohol

‘Tis the season for office parties, cocktail parties, reunions, family gatherings and other occasions where alcohol freely flows. When you’re enjoying yourself, it’s easy to drink more alcohol than you intended. Never mind the hangover that you’ll regret tomorrow: Consuming too much alcohol in a single occasion can trigger an irregular heartbeat. This happens so often at the end of the year that it has been dubbed “Holiday Heart Syndrome.”

“People really do land in the emergency department with alcohol toxicity and atrial fibrillation. I’ve seen it a lot over the years, and it can really get people into trouble,” says Cleveland Clinic electrophysiologist Daniel Cantillon, MD.

It’s No Party in the ER

Holiday drinking

© Toshket | Dreamstime.com

Drinking too much alcohol in one sitting can be toxic to the heart. For a happier, healthier new year, drink responsibly.

After imbibing too much alcohol, the partygoer typically awakens later that night or the next day with an irregular heart rhythm that is often accompanied by chest pain and profuse sweating. Calling 911 results in a trip to the emergency department, where an electrocardiogram (ECG) shows atrial fibrillation with a heart rate exceeding 160‑180 beats per minute.

At this point, intravenous medications are given to slow the heart rate, and electrolytes and fluids are replaced. The patients may need potassium, magnesium, thiamin and vitamin B12, as well.

If the arrhythmia persists more than 12 hours, the heart may need to be shocked into normal rhythm.

“Most people are able to go home within 48 hours, but they are no longer in a party mood,” says Dr. Cantillon.

How Much Alcohol Is Safe to Drink?

How much alcohol you are able to consume safely in one sitting depends on your body size, genetics, age, fitness, food consumed with it, the time period in which it is consumed, other medications you take and how much alcohol you drink on a regular basis.

As a general rule, the CDC recommends men consume no more than two alcoholic beverages in an occasion: women, only one.

“Stay within these limits, if you want to be on the safe side. Don’t test the fence if you have underlying health issues,” says Dr. Cantillon.

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