By Dr. Afroze Ahmad, Las Sendas Cardiology, P.C.
"So, where were you last weekend, Luke? I thought we will have an encore of our New Year’s Eve bash," said Eric.
"Oh, no. I have washed my hands of those binge drinking episodes," replied Luke.
"Really?" Eric asked the question more with disbelief than disappointment. "Does this have anything to do with your recent hospitalization, Luke?"
"Yes. It is a long story, Eric," Luke replied. He appeared pensive.
"Why don’t you tell me?" Eric was curious.
"The hospitalization was a real eye opener," Luke admitted. "Here I thought the New Year would bring a lot of happiness. I had discontinued smoking and had lost close to 25 pounds. I was upbeat about the prospects for the New Year."
Socially, alcohol passes with flying colors both as an inebriant and an intoxicant. Good times and holiday celebrations equate with high alcohol consumption. However, the havoc this mode of celebration creates in our body may not always be that well known.
At times during a holiday season and immediately thereafter, demands of socialization, stress and memories past may prompt one to consume alcohol, not in moderation, but in large quantities and in binge drinking. Similarly, stress relief on weekends also may lead people to consume alcohol heavily.
Individuals consuming large quantities of alcohol during holidays and on weekends are at a risk of what has been termed and labeled as the holiday heart. It is intriguing that although the holiday heart is commonly seen in men, women and adolescents are not spared.
The holiday heart is not limited to any particular race either. Surprisingly, the holiday heart is common among young individuals with healthy hearts.
Despite significant research, the exact mechanism for alcohol causing heart rhythm abnormalities is unknown. Nevertheless, alcohol seems to adversely affect the electrical system of the heart, which, in turn, causes the rhythm disturbance.
The most common rhythm disturbance associated with the holiday heart is atrial fibrillation. In patients with heart disease, this rhythm can lead to heart failure and stroke. However, given the healthy heart in people with a holiday heart, these complications do not occur.
The sensations and feeling accompanying the holiday heart may vary. It may include palpitations, lightheadedness, dizziness, the heart jumping out of the chest and/or rapid fluttering. In some people, such symptoms also may be confused with an anxiety attack. The persistent nature of the symptoms lands the patient in an emergency room where an EKG promptly leads to the diagnosis of atrial fibrillation.
When the cardiologist initially examines such a patient, she looks for any signs of underlying heart disease, using an ultrasound and a stress test. The ultrasound is employed to assess the function and the size of the heart. The stress test is used to evaluate for risks of a heart attack.
In a patient with a holiday heart, the ultrasound commonly confirms a normal function and size of the heart. Additionally, in such cases, a stress test also is reassuring, with results showing no signs of heart disease. Thus, the two tests establish the presence of a healthy heart.
Then, the cardiologist correlates the temporal relationship of binge or heavy drinking with the onset of symptoms, and a diagnosis of a holiday heart is established.
No definite drug or surgery is indicated for a holiday heart. All one has to do is refrain from heavy or binge drinking.
"Yes. I will," Luke responded.
"You know, Luke, I may rewrite my own New Year’s resolution tonight, as well," uttered Eric with a determination in his eyes.