We don’t mean to be Scrooges here! While we certainly wish you a festive and wonderful Holiday Season, we also want to remind you that more of a good thing is not always better. We are referring here to the effect that “large” quantities of alcohol ingestion may have on the heart, even on a healthy heart.
The term “holiday heart” was coined in the late 1970’s by doctors who studied patients admitted to the hospital for arrhythmia and who were also intoxicated with alcohol. The admissions occurred more frequently on Sundays and Mondays, and there was a peak in incidence during the week between December 24 and January 1. None of these patients had evidence of other heart problems, and the arrhythmia—usually atrial fibrillation—typically resolved as the alcohol intoxication resolved. The doctors therefore suspected that the cause of the arrhythmia was binge-drinking on weekends or during Christmas week.
Other studies investigating the association between arrhythmia and holidays have not been as clear-cut, and some have questioned the “holiday heart” as a meaningful clinical entity. On the other hand, there is a large body of evidence that supports the fact that ingesting large quantities of alcohol can be toxic to the heart tissue and increases one’s risk of cardiomyopathy.
How much alcohol is too much for the heart is not specifically established. Every person will metabolize alcohol differently, and not everyone will be equally sensitive. But in most cases of holiday heart, the ill effects of alcohol are obvious long before they affect the heart, so don’t look to your pulse rate to tell you that you’ve reached your limit!
We wish you all Safe, Healthy, and Happy Holidays.