Holiday heart syndrome: Overindulgence in food, alcohol can have serious consequences

With holiday celebrations in full swing, doctors offer a timely warning: Beware of holiday heart syndrome.

It can happen right when you're in the middle of all the fun - cocktails, food and more food - and it can be very scary.

"Today I'm attending our annual block party," said Chino Hills resident Yvonne Medock. "Our Christmas party."

When Medock and her neighbors get together, it's time to celebrate and imbibe.

Neighbor Therese Thai-Lee told her friends, "You got to try my potion! I will bring my potion and you all are going to have to take one."

Medock said, "I definitely overindulge during this time of year."

Which leads to something else that happens during the holidays.

Dr. Lawrence O'Connor, director of the Heart and Vascular Institute at Adventist Health Glendale, said, "Holiday heart syndrome occurs around this time of year when people drink alcohol in excess and the end result of that is that they may wake up in the early morning with a rapid heartbeat. And most often this is atrial fibrillation."

O'Connor said holiday heart syndrome doesn't just affect older people with heart issues. It can also affect the young and healthy.

"Eating a very salty meal can raise blood pressure, stretch the heart muscle cells and they become irritable," he said.

And here's something important to remember: O'Connor said 60% of binge drinkers will experience atrial fibrillation in their Iifetime.

While most of the time your heart can recover, O'Connor said in an occasional patient, it's a catastrophe.

Atrial fibrillation can send blood clots to the brain and cause a stroke.

"That's the scary thing about holiday heart syndrome," O'Connor said.

So how can you avoid this?

"Everything in moderation," Medock said. "You can try certain things or try everything but don't overindulge."

"Minimize alcohol," O'Connor said. "Minimize salt and don't quarrel with relatives."

O'Connor said don't be fooled because one beer has the same alcohol content as a cocktail or a glass of wine.

At the party, Medock and her friends proposed a toast to moderation.

If you're going to make this toast, just make sure you do it once.
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