holiday heart syndrome

Let the holiday spirit into your heart – in moderation


‘Tis the season to be jolly, which for many of us includes raising a glass of holiday cheer to toast the health and happiness of friends and loved ones. But for some, an overabundance of celebrating the season with champagne and spiked eggnog may trigger the onset of “Holiday Heart Syndrome,” a condition in which an irregular heartbeat may arise from binge drinking alcoholic beverages. I can hear you protesting, “But wait! That can’t happen to me — I’m young and healthy, I don’t have a problem with alcohol, and my heart’s fine.” Unfortunately, Holiday Heart Syndrome (HHS) can happen to the young and old, to regular and non-regular drinkers, and to those with or without an underlying heart condition due to the pro-arrhythmic qualities of alcohol. In fact, various studies report that an acute episode of excessive alcohol consumption may be responsible for an astonishing number of cardiac arrhythmias. New-onset atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia to manifest from HHS either silently or accompanied by palpitations, but atrial or ventricular premature contractions, atrial flutter, junctional tachycardia, and, rarely, sudden cardiac death may also occur.1,2   

Binge drinking is defined as a session of alcoholic beverage intake that raises the blood alcohol concentration to 0.08% or more, which usually occurs when women consume 4 or more drinks and men consume 5 or more drinks over a 2-hour period.3 And certain types of alcohol — most notably beer, red wine, and spirits — are implicated with greater frequency than others in their ability to trigger cardiac arrhythmias.4,5 But the biggest risk for HHS seems to come from binge drinking itself, with alcohol thought to be the causative factor in up to 10% of cases of new-onset AF.2 In individuals with pre-existing paroxysmal AF, an episode of drinking heralds an arrhythmic event in up to 34% of cases.5

Fortunately, most of the time cardiac arrhythmias associated with HHS are short-lived and will spontaneously resolve within 24 hours, although anyone who notices a misbehaving heart after a festive gathering should seek immediate medical attention. But in some cases arrhythmias may persist and lead to a chronic condition, putting quite a damper on holiday spirits. MDGuidelines makes it easy for users to gain valuable insight on treatment guidelines and recovery durations associated with more than a thousand medical conditions, tests, and procedures, and includes detailed information on cardiac arrhythmias, AF, palpitations, atrial and ventricular premature contractions, tachycardias, cardiac arrest, and more. And after I sift through this fascinating and informative array of topics, this holiday season I plan to keep my spirits bright by charging my glass with moderation. 



  1. Tonelo, D. “Holiday Heart Syndrome Revisited After 34 Years.” Arq Bras Cardiol. 101 2 (2013): 183–189.
  2. Budzikowski, A.S., et al. “Holiday Heart Syndrome.” eMedicine. Eds. J.M. Dizon, et al. 31 Aug. 2017. Medscape.
  3. “Fact Sheets – Binge Drinking.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 7 Jun. 2017. US Department of Health & Human Services.
  4. Hansson, A., B. Madsen-Härdig, and A.B. Olsson. “Arrhythmia-provoking Factors and Symptoms at the Onset of Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation: A Study Based on Interviews with 100 Patients Seeking Hospital Assistance.” BMC Cardiovasc Disord. 4 (2004): 13.
  5. Mandyam, M.C., et al. “Alcohol and Vagal Tone as Triggers for Paroxysmal Atrial Fibrillation.” Am J Cardiol. 110 3 (2012): 364–368.