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Protect your heart as seasonal celebrations wind down

We tend to indulge while celebrating with family and friends during the holidays, more than any other time of year. But just because Christmas, Hanukkah and New Year’s are over, doesn’t mean you should ignore the signs and symptoms of a condition called Holiday Heart Syndrome.

January is actually one of the most dangerous months of the year when it comes to heart attacks, according to the American Heart Association, so it’s important to watch for signs and symptoms.

The side effect of too much stress, too much salt, too much alcohol and not enough sleep and hydration during the holiday season can create the perfect storm of what is traditionally known as Holiday Heart Syndrome, said Dr. Nicole Riordan, Beacon Granger Hospital medical director.

It can affect both healthy people without any known cardiac disease, and people who have weakened hearts.

Following one or more days of indulging of alcohol — during the holidays or at any time of year, you could experience heart palpitations, essentially a feeling of fluttering in your chest or an irregular heart rate.

“You might feel that your heart is beating out of your chest,” said Dr. Joseph D’Haenens, Beacon Granger’s assistant medical director. “You can also have lightheadedness or dizziness and can even pass out as a result.”

What causes this feeling? Alcohol increases the sympathetic nervous system drive or ‘fight or flight’ response that increases heart rate and increases blood pressure. This nervous system response persists into the withdrawal or the ‘hangover’ phase, Dr. Riordan said.

Alcohol has also been found to prolong some of the electrical intervals on EKGs that are associated with abnormal heart rhythms. Heavy or frequent alcohol use can also cause electrolyte abnormalities, particularly with potassium or magnesium, which can contribute to heart rhythm disturbance, Dr. Riordan said.

‘Holiday heart’ can be prevented.

“You should stay hydrated, abstain from or limit alcohol consumption, get plenty of sleep and manage your stress level,” Dr. Riordan said. “And if you drink alcohol, consider alternating alcoholic drinks with water.”

The majority of Holiday Heart Syndrome cases will resolve with hydration and time, although there is an increased risk of the same rhythm disturbance occurring again, Dr. Riordan said. And that’s why it is important to always listen to your heart and

If you find that your heart is irregular, fast or fluttering, or you experience chest pain, shortness of breath, lightheadedness or dizziness, you should seek immediate medical assistance.