A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic

Holiday heart is real

American flag and beer

Too much alcohol consumption can lead to heart issues.

As the Fourth of July approaches, beware of consuming too much alcohol during the holiday festivities.

Beyond regrettable decisions, heavy alcohol consumption can lead to a condition known as holiday heart. Holiday heart occurs when people experience atrial fibrillation, which is irregular and often rapid heartbeat.

With holiday heart, the upper chambers of the heart begin to beat very rapidly, potentially up to 300 or 400 times per minute, said Dr. Param Sharma, a Marshfield Clinic cardiologist. A normal heart rate would be about 60-70 beats per minute.

When the upper chambers of the heart beat rapidly, the lower chambers also may beat faster. As that happens, heart palpitations and shortness of breath are possible. If a rapid heartbeat continues long-term, heart failure and heart muscle weakness could occur, Sharma said.

What to do if you’re concerned

If you’re concerned you might be experiencing holiday heart, take your pulse to see if you have an elevated heart rate. If you believe you could be having an episode, go to the emergency department immediately. An electrocardiogram can confirm whether or not you are having atrial fibrillation.

“For the most part, holiday heart subsides within 24 hours or so,” Sharma said. “It could be serious, but in general, these are self-limiting arrhythmia.”

Medication may be used to slow down a rapid heartbeat. In other cases, cardioversion, which is an electric shock, may be used to correct the heartbeat.

How much drinking causes holiday heart?

Mild drinking should not trigger an episode of holiday heart, Sharma said. But five to six drinks or more puts people at risk. Sharma said he does see a spike in alcohol-related heart rhythm problems on holidays.

“Alcohol in high quantities clearly leads to damage of the heart muscle,” Sharma said. “It’s important to drink in moderation.”

Holiday heart is more serious for people who have existing heart problems.

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