The heat has finally arrived in Cape Town, and so has the silly season. Although Christmas, New Year’s Eve and a lot of time off work calls for care free evenings and more than a few boozy drinks, you could be seriously risking your health.

A health complication known as “holiday heart syndrome” (HHS), which causes palpitations and irregular heart arrhythmias, is on the rise during the holiday period – according to spokesperson for Pharma Dynamics – SA’s leading supplier of heart medication – Nicole Jennings.

Jennings describes HHS as a condition which typically occurs during the holidays when people who don’t suffer from heart disease experience irregular heart rhythms following heavy alcohol consumption.

“Holiday Heart Syndrome is typically associated with the consumption of an excessive amount of alcohol in a short period of time and can cause acute cardiovascular effects such as heartbeat irregularities, shortness of breath and chest pain. The effects are reversible if you stop drinking or greatly reduce the amount you consume, but can be alarming when you first experience it,” she says.

Most of the irregular heart rhythms one would experience with HHS are atrial. Atrial fibrillation, or AF – when you experience heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath – is the most common, but atrial flutter (a fast heart rate of more than 100 beats per minutes) and ventricular ectopy (when your heart skips a beat) are also common.

Jennings says HHS isn’t fully understood, but alcohol affects the conduction paths of the heart, which explains the onset of health palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath.

“Abstaining from alcohol for a while is usually the recommended treatment for HHS, but it’s best to see a doctor who will check for a dangerous drop in blood pressure or signs of acute heart failure. It’s better to always err on the side of caution, when it relates to your health of your heart,” she advised.

Excessive drinking can pose serious health complications, but you can still enjoy the festive season without putting your heart at risk. The National Department of Health NDoH) recommends that women should limit their alcohol intake to two drinks per day, and men should limit it to three boozy beverages.

So, how do you keep your heart happy throughout the festive season? Jennings suggests the following

– Limit your alcohol intake. Jennings says one should limit their alcohol intake especially if they have “congenital heart disease or have an increased risk of heart disease as a result of obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or hypertension”.

– Lay low on coffee, energy drinks and fizzy drinks. Jennings says one should limit these “as they all contain caffeine which can act as a heart stimulant and cause AF”.

– Stay hydrated. “When at a party be sure to eat something before taking alcohol and remember to drink enough water in between drink since alcohol strips water from the body,” recommends Jennings.

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