By Claire Bewley, Pharmacy Resident, Baptist Health Medical Center-Little Rock
Holidays are a time for celebration and reflection. However, the holidays can bring on additional stressors that can affect your heart. “Holiday heart” is a condition where your heart goes into an irregular rhythm called atrial fibrillation after drinking too much alcohol, overeating, or increased salt intake. While this can happen at any point during the year, it is common during the holiday season due to the extra holiday celebrations.
Alcohol consumption can be toxic to the heart. It can cause surges in adrenalin, change the electrical current of the heart, and alter electrolytes that are important with the heart’s normal function. Overeating can cause the stomach to stretch out, which activates the parasympathetic nervous system, also known as “rest and digest” effect. However, in patients that are at risk for heart trouble, it can cause an increased heart rate, which leads to an abnormal heart rhythm. Increased salt intake causes fluid to be retained and blood pressure to increase. The increased pressure can stretch the heart and lead to an abnormal rhythm.
How Can You Prevent Holiday Heart?
It is recommended to avoid heavy alcohol consumption or maybe avoid it entirely if you have atrial fibrillation.
You can also prevent holiday heart by continuing to eat a healthy diet during the holiday season. One way to do that is to stop eating when you are full and to drink a glass of water before eating. To avoid increased salt intake, don’t add salt to your food and track your salt intake. Foods high in salt that you may not know of include canned soup and canned vegetables. It is a good idea to read nutrition labels when grocery shopping to choose low sodium or heart-healthy options. Several websites have tips and recipes that are healthy substitutes to your favorite holiday dishes.
The holiday season can also be a stressful time. Taking just 10 minutes a day to yourself to relax can help lower your blood pressure.
What to Do if You Think You Have Holiday Heart?
The most common symptoms of holiday heart are heart palpitations, feeling like your heart is beating out of your chest, or shortness of breath. If you are feeling these symptoms, go to your doctor or emergency room, even if it puts a damper on your holidays. It is better to be safe than sorry. They can give you medication to control your heart rate and make you feel better.
What Happens if You Stay in Atrial Fibrillation?
If your heart stays in atrial fibrillation, you will typically be placed on medications to control your heart rate and prevent blood clots from occurring. Medications that control your heart rate are called antiarrhythmics. Other medications that can control your heart rate are beta-blockers and calcium channel blockers.
When your heart is in atrial fibrillation, the abnormal heartbeat can cause the formation of blood clots, which can lead to a stroke. Therefore, your doctor may put you on an anticoagulant or a blood thinner to help decrease your risk of stroke.
In summary, increased alcohol intake, an unhealthy diet, increased salt intake, and stress during the holiday season can cause your heart to beat in an irregular rhythm, so remember – plan ahead and everything in moderation.