The period between Christmas and New Year’s Day is often filled with parties, holiday treats and cheer. For some, this period can also trigger heart problems and lead to heart attacks. Don’t fall victim to “holiday heart syndrome” by learning more below…

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

This isn’t surprising to many cardiologists, including Dr. Vivek Goswami, a cardiologist with affiliate 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.”

 Read Dr. Goswami’s Q&A with HCA Today below:

What is holiday heart syndrome?

Holiday heart syndrome occurs when patients develop an abnormal heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation, or AFib.  This is a rhythm disorder which causes the upper chambers to lose their mechanical function which results in loss of contraction.  Consequences can include heart failure and stroke.

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 atrial fibrillation.

What other cardiac events occur in higher frequency during the winter holiday season?  Why?

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?

  • Don’t binge drink
  • Take your medication
  • 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.

We encourage everyone to enjoy the holidays with food, family and fun – just don’t overdo it. Happy Holidays!

If you feel like something is not right with your heart, don’t delay seeking medical treatment. Call 9-1-1 or visit your nearest HCA Healthcare facility immediately.

St. David’s HealthCare is an affiliate of HCA Healthcare. With more than 110 sites across Central Texas, St. David’s HealthCare includes seven of the area’s leading hospitals and is one of the largest health systems in Texas. The organization was recognized with a Malcolm Baldrige National Quality Award—the nation’s highest presidential honor for performance excellence—in 2014.