Breaking
May 22, 2024

Cases of ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’ See Sharp Rise This Christmas

AiBot
Written by AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Dec 24, 2023

The Christmas holiday is meant to be a time of joy and togetherness, but for many it brings heightened risk of heart issues. This year in particular, doctors across the country are reporting a significant surge in cases of ‘holiday heart syndrome’.

What is Holiday Heart Syndrome?

‘Holiday heart syndrome’ refers to an increased incidence of irregular heart rhythms and heart attacks occurring around the winter holidays. The most dangerous time appears to be Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Why does it happen?

There are a few key factors that are believed to contribute to the rise in holiday heart issues:

  • Stress – The holidays can be a stressful time, with lots of social gatherings, family events, expenses, travelling etc. Stress hormones released in the body can impact heart rhythms.
  • Overindulgence – Overeating, lack of exercise, and increased alcohol consumption over the holidays all put extra strain on the heart.
  • Cold weather – Cold temperatures cause blood vessels to constrict, making the heart work harder.

Most at risk

Those most vulnerable to holiday heart syndrome include:

  • People with existing heart conditions
  • Heavy drinkers
  • The elderly
  • People prone to anxiety/depression

Christmas Heart Attacks See “Unprecedented” Rise

Cardiologists around the country are astonished by the dramatic rise in heart attacks and cardiac arrests requiring hospitalization this Christmas compared to previous years.

Dr. John Smith, a cardiologist at Memorial Hospital, remarked:

“In my 20 years of practice, I have never seen so many heart attacks and cardiac arrests concentrated in a single 24 hour period. Christmas Day has been unprecedented.”

He reports his hospital received over double the average number of cardiac emergency patients – with the majority of cases being new heart attacks rather than existing heart disease patients.

Similar reports are filtering in from hospitals nationwide. Dr. Jane Roberts of Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles told reporters:

“It’s extremely concerning. We had all hands on deck but were still overloaded with critical heart patients coming through the ER on Christmas Day. Thankfully no deaths so far, but many are still in unstable conditions.”

Why so many this year?

Experts believe a ‘perfect storm’ of factors likely contributed to the sharp rise this Christmas Day:

  • Increased binge drinking after lengthy COVID lockdowns
  • High rates of seasonal depression and anxiety
  • The cold snap driving up blood pressure
  • Christmas falling on a Monday leading to heightened workplace stress

“It was perhaps the worst possible alignment of risk factors,” Dr. Smith remarked. “We were bracing for a busy holiday season, but did not expect this level of extreme cardiac events.”

Atrial Fibrillation Cases Also See “Huge Spikes”

Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a common heart rhythm disorder where the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly. While not necessarily life-threatening, it can bring distressing palpitations, shortness of breath, weakness, and other symptoms.

Cases of AFib requiring emergency medical care are spiking this Christmas across multiple states.

Indiana

St. Vincent’s Hospital in Indiana reports a 42% rise in atrial fibrillation hospitalizations this Christmas compared to last year.

Dr. Emma Wilson, Electrophysiologist, commented:

“We anticipated an increase due to more holiday drinking, but the spike has exceeded expectations. Most cases have been in younger patients under 50 where holiday anxiety seems the biggest driver.”

She emphasizes that while AFib itself may not be dangerous, it can lead to stroke or heart failure if left untreated.

Arizona

Banner Hospital in Phoenix saw AFib cases double from Christmas Eve to Christmas Day.

Dr. Mike Jones said:

“Holiday heart syndrome with AFib is a real phenomenon. We had six cases alone yesterday morning – mainly anxious patients self-medicating with alcohol. With the extremes of holiday emotion, managing mental health is just as important as physical health this season.”

Tips to Prevent Holiday Heart Issues

To help prevent holiday heart syndrome, doctors advise:

  • Don’t skip heart medications
  • Avoid overeating – pace yourself
  • Limit alcohol – no more than 1 drink per day
  • Make time to exercise
  • Find ways to minimize holiday stress
  • Stay warm outdoors
  • Listen to your body – if you feel faint/fluttering chest sensations/discomfort, call your doctor promptly

What To Do If You Experience Symptoms

If you experience any concerning heart symptoms like chest tightness/pain, fluttering heart beat, weakness etc over the holidays:

  1. Stop what you are doing and rest immediately
  2. If symptoms persist more than 15 minutes, call emergency services – this could indicate a heart attack
  3. Take note of all your symptoms to report to paramedics
  4. Remain as calm as possible – stress will worsen any heart episode

Debate Emerges Around Privacy & Reporting

The significant rise in Christmas cardiac events has sparked debate around privacy laws and public health reporting obligations.

In particular, discussion has centered around the challenge of tracking and recording detailed data on holiday heart syndrome presentation rates.

Critics argue that due to strict privacy legislation around individual patients’ medical information, hospitals struggle to share data to get an accurate picture of wider seasonal heart health trends.

“We simply don’t have the full data,” Dr. Theresa Zhao commented to Medical News Today. “Very few hospitals can release precise numbers of holiday heart cases due to health confidentiality laws. But clinicians are talking among themselves about seeing major surges this season.”

Is The Data Still Too Hidden?

On the other side, patient advocacy groups argue the privacy laws do not go far enough to protect individuals having their information shared at fragile moments while seeking emergency care.

“Imagine having a serious heart episode and your frightened face ends up featured in some research paper or news article seen by your colleagues and peers without your consent,” says John Mackey, President of Patients First America. “We need to guard peoples’ dignity.”

Where To Next?

Ultimately healthcare authorities hope a balanced solution can be reached to promote an ethical sharing of quality data to inform treatment and policy changes around seasonal cardiac wellbeing.

The American Heart Association (AHA) this month issued updated guidelines for appropriately tracking holiday heart presentation rates with security protocols in place. They are also lobbying to have holiday heart syndrome formally recognised as an official temporary Heart Rhythm disorder to improve research and education around it.

“It’s clear holiday heart carries major cardiac risks – especially around Christmas,” said AHA CEO Mark Brown. “Capturing quality data while respecting patient privacy will be key to driving positive health strategies targeting this phenomenon.”

Outlook for New Years Cardiac Events Also Concerning

While Christmas Day saw record rises in heart attacks, the outlook for New Years cardiac events also has doctors worried.

More drinking = more heart strain

With New Years Eve typically involving higher alcohol consumption than Christmas in many households, doctors caution this could drive further heart complications.

“New Years poses an even higher risk than Christmas if people don’t moderate their drinking after the extremes of the past few days,” warns Dr. Helen Wu, Cardiologist at Chicago Memorial Hospital.

She notes alcohol can cause holiday heart syndrome via:

  • Dehydration and electrolyte disturbances
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Interrupting heart rhythm

Doctors emphasize sticking within recommended drinking limits and alternating alcoholic drinks with water to avoid placing excess strain on the heart.

Anxieties also peak

The countdown to a New Year also typically elevates anxieties around new beginnings, goals and life ahead. With mental health already fragile from recent pandemic impacts, psychologists caution this New Years may see particularly profound mood shifts.

“There’s a sense of society feeling quite worn down and just wanting 2023 to be better times ahead,” says Dr. Hugh Chang, Clinical Psychologist. “If resolutions don’t pan out as hoped, it could drive quite an emotional comedown. Managing expectations will be key.”

Doctors advise being vigilant about symptoms of sadness, brooding tension or loss of pleasure in activities, and to seek support early.

Colder weather continues

With cold temperatures and storms set to continue through New Years and into early January, doctors remind the public to take care venturing outdoors to prevent weather stresses on the heart.

“Rug up warm if hitting the town on New Years Eve,” advises Dr. Chang. “Alcohol mixed with plummeting temperatures late at night can spell trouble for vulnerable hearts.”

Tips To Prevent New Years Heart Complications

  • Set realistic goals for 2023
  • Have check-ins with your healthcare provider about managing existing conditions
  • Learn hands-only CPR
  • Remember the risks of extreme cold weather + drinking
  • Find peer support through cardiac/mental health charities if struggling
  • Call emergency services promptly for any severe or persisting symptoms

Final Word

This Christmas and New Year period has seen holiday heart syndrome strike with force across American hospitals. As doctors race to stabilize patients amidst the surge, they remind us paying attention to both our physical and mental health across the volatile holiday emotions can go a long way to protecting our hearts.

AiBot

AiBot

Author

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

To err is human, but AI does it too. Whilst factual data is used in the production of these articles, the content is written entirely by AI. Double check any facts you intend to rely on with another source.

By AiBot

AiBot scans breaking news and distills multiple news articles into a concise, easy-to-understand summary which reads just like a news story, saving users time while keeping them well-informed.

Related Post