Holiday Heart Syndrome – Have You Heard Of It?

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Holiday Heart Syndrome – This is a condition I have encountered a few times over the years.

The problem is this – you go on holiday, enjoy your alcohol a little too much, and return home with an irregular heart rhythm.


Now, there are many who say that alcohol in moderation is a good thing, and I am sure your friends in France will vouch for that.

What Is Holiday Heart Syndrome Due To?

A clinical study published way back in the 1970s found that those patients who consumed alcohol as a binge over the weekend suffered from irregular heart rhythms more often than those who had a large drink on a regular basis.

You see, it is not the alcohol per se that is the problem; it is the alcohol ‘binge’. Binge drinking has a number of different harmful effects on the body.

Let me rephrase that, before you get all excited.

Having select types of alcohol on a regular basis can protect your heart. Have too much too quickly, and your heart does not like it.

Here’s why.

holiday heart syndrome

When you binge drink, you release certain compounds into the blood stream that stimulate the heart muscle and increase how fast it beats.

These compounds are adrenaline and noradrenaline.

Adrenaline and noradrenaline are released normally within us. You may notice their effects when you are frightened or when you are excited about something.

Ever notice your heart beating hard and fast when some one creeps up behind you and startles you? Thats your adrenaline doing its thing.

But that’s not the only reason why your heart starts to pound in your chest.

There are also a number of different theories us medical geeks have come up with. Some of us have found that the change in the way electricity flows through the heart is what leads to the irregular rhythm. Some feel there is a change in the acid content in the blood stream, and this is what pushes the heart to beat harder.

There are many other theories, but lets not get into too much science here. What you need to remember about holiday heart syndrome is that it is related to an alcohol binge.

Contributing factors include stress and dehydration. Rare cases occur even on moderate alcohol consumption.

What Are The Signs and Symptoms?

Thumping in the chest – that is what you will feel. A pounding sensation either continuously or just once in a while is what most patients experience.

If you are wary enough, you will realise that the episodes started the day after or just after a party with your friends. If you are too inebriated to realise it, then your doctor surely will.

If you came to your doctor with suspected holiday heart syndrome, then your doctor would look out for other signs such as weakening of the heart, swelling in the legs and the presence of fluid in the lungs.

This is because alcohol can cause a condition called ‘alcoholic cardiomyopathy’ – a condition where the heart muscle is weak and does not pump normally.

What Tests Are Needed?

Simple blood tests may be done to assess your kidney function, salt levels and liver function.

The irregular rhythm in holiday heart syndrome is best diagnosed with an electrocardiogram. The beats will be irregular all the time.

The best test to determine the function of your heart is an echocardiogram. This will tell your doctor how strong your heart is, and whether it has been affected by the alcohol.

Very rarely would you be asked to undergo additional tests.

Treatment Of Holiday Heart Syndrome

Okay, lets get to the important bit now. How is holiday heart syndrome treated?

Firstly, stop drinking!!! Clearly excessive alcohol is not good for your heart, so why overindulge?

can alcohol affect my heartNext, you will need medicines to slow down the heart. You may be given a drug that controls the rate at which the heart beats, such as a beta blocker or verapamil.

Some cases do not respond to medical therapy. If the irregular rhythm continues, then shock therapy to therapy to the heart may be needed.

Most cases resolve very quickly, once the alcohol effect wears off. However, in some patients, the erratic beating can continue. Additional medicines such as blood thinners may be needed then.

So what do you do after your doctor sends you home?

Well, with the hope that you have learned your lesson, don’t binge drink again! If possible, cut out alcohol completely from your diet.

Coffee should be avoided initially as the caffeine can stimulate the heart, but as time passes you can get back to having your morning brew.

What about exercise?

Hold off for a few days as the adrenaline released from exercise can speed up the heart again.

Once you are settled a little bit and your doctor gives you the go ahead, you can get back into it.

What About My Future?

Well, as long as you refrain from alcohol, you should be safe. With proper medical management, around 90% patients make a full recovery.

If your heart muscle is weak, then the outcome may be variable.

If your heart muscle is otherwise strong, you will be fine as long as you stay off the booze.

Closing Remarks

So there you have it – holiday heart syndrome. Why not just enjoy your holiday in a better way?

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Dr Vivek Baliga B
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