Holiday Heart Syndrome: What to Know

Medically Reviewed by Neha Pathak, MD on December 02, 2022
3 min read

This time of year is full of friends, family, traditions, and of course, food. While it’s perfectly fine to indulge a bit, be careful not to go too far and end up with holiday heart syndrome. That’s a heart condition that happens when you drink too much, particularly binge drinking. Here’s what you need to know.

It’s atrial fibrillation (AFib), or an irregular heartbeat, that’s associated with binge drinking. While It can happen any time of year, it's most common around end-of-year holidays when festivities are at an all-time high.

Your risk is higher if you already have heart issues. But anyone can get it. Over time, it can lead to more serious complications like heart failure and stroke.



Holiday heart syndrome symptoms are the same as those for AFib. You might notice:

A lack of energy. You might feel very tired. More so than usual during the holidays.

Discomfort in your chest. It may feel painful or like there’s pressure in your chest.

Dizziness. You could become light-headed or feel like you’re going to faint.

Heart palpitations. You’ll feel a fluttering, racing, or pounding in your chest.

Trouble breathing. You might notice it’s harder to breathe as you go about your daily routine. But it’s also possible when you’re resting.

It depends on your overall health. If your health already isn’t the best or unstable, your doctor will likely do cardioversion. This is when they use quick, low-energy shocks to reset your heart rhythm. They’ll also suggest you stop drinking altogether. Even if you can’t stop completely, studies show drinking less than 80 milligrams of alcohol per day may lower your risk of holiday heart.

If your overall health is good, the doctor will treat your arrhythmia and suggest you stop drinking.

Yes. You don’t have to sit in the corner with a glass of water while everyone else lives it up. Here are a few tips:

Eat and drink in moderation. If you’re going to a big party in the evening. Eat lighter at breakfast and lunch. Or eat a full, healthy meal just before the event so you’re less tempted to overdo it. Instead of cutting a huge slice of your uncle’s famous pound cake, opt for a smaller sliver. And sip on one cocktail the entire night instead of going back for a second or third.

Keep moving. It’s important to stay active before, during, and after the holidays. Stick to your regular workout routine to keep your heart healthy. If you keep yourself healthy during and around the holidays, you’ll be less likely to have long-term heart issues.

Try your best to stay calm. You might feel extra stress around the holiday season. This is normal, but don’t let it get out of control. Leave time to relax and do things you enjoy. This can help improve your heart health.

Be careful with medications. After a night of drinking, you may reach for a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) to ease hangover symptoms. But these medications can actually put even more stress on your heart. They can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for heart issues.