A new study shows the risk of heart attacks increase significantly during the winter holiday season. During a 15-year period, Swedish researchers discovered the chance of a heart attack were 15 percent higher than usual on Christmas, 37 percent higher on Christmas Eve, and 20 percent higher on New Year’s day.

This isn’t surprising to many cardiologists, including Vivek Goswami, M.D., a cardiologist with St. David’s HealthCare’s Heart Hospital of Austin. Dr. Goswami says there is a definite connection between the holidays and an increase in cardiac events. One such event is most notably known as “holiday heart syndrome.”

Listen to the clip below as Dr. Vivek explains further on the Dr. Drew Midday Live with Lauren Sivan talk radio show. Also, read the Q&A with HCA Today.

What is holiday heart syndrome?

Holiday heart syndrome occurs when patients develop an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, or AFib, a rhythm disorder of the upper chambers of the heart during which time the upper chambers lose the mechanical function and doesn’t contract.

What causes holiday heart syndrome?

Doctors coined the term after noticing an increase in instances of this condition related to or caused by heavy holiday drinking. So, alcohol can trigger episodes of AFib or an irregular heartbeat. It’s important to note that holiday heart syndrome is one specific condition linked to heavy drinking, however, there are other factors that can cause heart-related health concerns.

What else might the increase in cardiac events during the winter holiday season?

In addition to the occurrence of “holiday heart syndrome,” December and January are the deadliest months for cardiovascular deaths. This could be attributed to several factors, including:

  • Emotional Stress: Unfortunately, the holiday season can be a source of stress due to family gatherings and/or financial pressures (with gifts and travel expenses).
  • Overindulgence: Poor eating habits and high salt intake can exacerbate chronic heart conditions, such as heart failure and chronic high blood pressure.
  • Delayed treatment: Delays in seeking treatment during the holidays may also play a part in the prevalence of cardiac events.

What are some tips to reduce holiday heart syndrome?

It’s expected to enjoy the holidays with food, family and fun – just don’t overdo it.

  • Don’t binge drink
  • Avoid too much caffeine
  • Watch your salt intake
  • Exercise

Everyone should be mindful of alcohol consumption and general overindulgence during the holidays, whether or not they have a pre-existing heart condition or a family history of heart disease.

St. David’s Healthcare, located in Central West Texas, is an affiliate of HCA Healthcare