print

Holiday Heart Syndrome: March 7, 2013

When a heartbeat gets out of rhythm, it may be a symptom of a-fib, short for atrial fibrillation. It’s a common heart condition that creates an increased risk for stroke.

“It’s the most common cardiac arrhythmia that we see in the population. There’s abnormal progression of the electricity of the heart and through certain triggers and electrical reasons and anatomy and things like that, the top part of the heart actually fires off at quite a rapid rate,” says Dr. Roshan Vattyham, cardiologist with Lee Memorial Health System.

A range of factors can influence heart rhythms, including aging. The palpitations or racing heart could also be a sign of a health condition like thyroid issues. But doctors are finding lifestyle choices raise the risk of a-fib.

“Heightened exercise can cause some triggers. The other thing we try to look for is excess caffeine, sometimes dark chocolate,” says Dr. Vattyham.

Another contributor: alcohol. For years now, studies found that booze can have a disturbing effect on the heart. It maybe because heavy drinking can lead to dehydration, which is a known trigger. Doctors see a spike in a-fib around the holidays.

“There’s this kind of strange phenomenon called the Holiday Heart when you know everyone eats their salted pork, drink their beer, then they kind of just go into this rhythm heart failure atrial fib for awhile,” says Dr. Vattyham.

The alcohol- a-fib link is also found among binge drinkers. If it’s combined with sleep deprivation, exhaustion or dehydration- the risk increases. 

“So there’s certainly things you can try to do to prevent it from happening. It’s one of those tough things to deal with sometimes.”

Moderating alcohol intake may be one way to slow a racing heart.