Published December 27, 2019. By Rotimi Adesanya
About three years ago, during a festive period, a man was brought in for treatment due to the pounding nature of his heartbeat. He was having palpitation. He complained of chest pain and that his heart was beating too fast. The patient had earlier that day told me he drank three bottles of beer just six hours before he came to the hospital.
The patient was offered admission and given some medications. Although he refused admission, his result was not satisfactory, as the electrocardiogram showed some abnormal signs. An initial clinical suspicion of holiday heart syndrome was made.
The test was repeated on the second day and the same patient had a normal ECG and laboratory result. The man manifested a feature of a medical condition called Holiday Heart Syndrome.
Holiday Heart Syndrome is a term used to describe a heart condition associated mainly with excessive alcohol consumption, coupled with overeating and possibly lack of sleep.
Despite the term, it does not only occur on holidays, although it is more common during festive seasons such as Christmas, Boxing Day and the New Year. It is an acute condition that disappears spontaneously when the patient desists from taking alcohol.
There are several symptoms of HHS. However, some patients tend to delay seeking medical care as it is the holiday season.
It is important for the family and friends of the patient to note any possible symptoms and compel the person to seek medical attention. The most common symptom of the syndrome is palpitation of the heart, where the person can feel the heart pounding. There may also be breathlessness and chest pain due to ischemia (angina), which can sometimes be confused with heartburn or indigestion. Dizziness, arrhythmias and the feeling that one is about to faint are also part of these.
Holiday heart syndrome is mainly due to excessive alcohol consumption. It is seen with binge drinking, particularly over weekends and holidays. Usually, you don’t need to have a pre-existing heart disease to get it, but in some instances there may be undiagnosed chronic diseases of the heart and liver. Concomitant recreational drug use, like cocaine use, can worsen the condition. However, these patients tend to have a history of heavy drinking frequently. The combination of overeating and a lack of sleep during these periods may also contribute to the syndrome in conjunction with alcohol, although the exact interplay of factors is not clear. Another major concern is that the irregular heartbeats can lead to congestive heart failure or even a stroke – although this is rare.
Holiday heart syndrome is diagnosed with the use of an electrocardiogram and, if necessary, an echocardiograph should be conducted. These tests not only confirm the diagnosis, but also identify other pathological changes of the heart. Blood tests to monitor the electrolyte levels, lipid profiles and urinalysis should also be conducted.
Young patients with no observable heart disease may not require any specific treatment. The condition resolves on its own, usually within 24 hours, and the patient needs to be advised against excessive alcohol use. If the arrhythmia is severe or persists for longer than 24 hours, then medical intervention is necessary. Medication and electrical cardio version are the main treatment options for holiday heart syndrome.
Binge drinking should be avoided, irrespective of the time of the year. Occasionally having an extra drink may not be harmful, but HHS can occur in people who are moderate drinkers as well. In conclusion, heart disease is the number one killer in men and women. We can prevent it by maintaining a healthy weight, exercising, watching salt and fat intake, not smoking, avoiding alcohol and controlling blood pressure. Enjoy the holidays, but make sure you enjoy the days in moderation. Think of your heart!
To ensure a healthy lifestyle, people are encouraged to imbibe the culture of a healthy lifestyle regularly:
Exercise (moderately) regularly, reduce salt intake, avoid junk meals high in fats and oils which only clog up the arteries.
Take lots of whole-grains, fruits and vegetables, Take lots of water. Get routine medical tests done.