Media contacts:
Sherry Baker, 404/377-1398,
Kathi Baker, 404/727-9371,
Janet Christenbury, 404/727-8599,
December 17, 2002


Avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome:
Keep These Heartwarming Days Heart Healthy

ATLANTA - Over the past several years, research has mounted suggesting that moderate consumption of alcohol, especially wine, may help prevent coronary artery disease. "However, alcohol in excess is anything but good for your heart health," says cardiologist Douglas Morris, MD, Director of the Emory Heart Center.

In fact, folks who get caught up in high-spirited revelry and over-indulge in alcohol this holiday season could end up with a frightening heart problem --- Holiday Heart Syndrome.

The disorder is most often associated with drinking excessively over a short period of time. Holiday Heart Syndrome is marked by a very fast, irregular heart rhythm called atrial fibrillation which can occur in both people who binge drink excessive amounts of alcohol as well as those who rarely if ever take a drink -- except when they are tempted to over imbibe this time of year with extra glasses of wine or "spiked" eggnog.

According to Dr. Morris, M.D., symptoms of Holiday Heart Syndrome include palpitations (the sensation the heart is racing or skipping beats), chest discomfort, shortness of breath and feeling faint.

"Typically, someone with Holiday Heart Syndrome has been drinking excessively for a few days and they present with atrial fibrillation," Dr. Morris says. "When they stop drinking alcohol, their hearts may spontaneously go back into regular rhythm, or they may need to be cardioverted to a regular rhythm through medication or an electric shock." Fortunately, Holiday Heart Syndrome is usually not a dangerous problem, but the rhythm disturbance can be a frightening -- and holiday disruptive -- experience that requires medical tests and treatment. "The best thing to do if you feel your heart beating rapidly and erratically is to go to an emergency department or urgent care center to have an electrocardiogram made to see what kind of rhythm disturbance you are experiencing," Dr. Morris says.

He also points out that some people who do not binge drink may find they have some isolated extra heartbeats after drinking alcohol. "This is not the same as Holiday Heart Syndrome, but it can be bothersome. Caffeine and being overly tired can also cause these extra beats in people who are prone to them. Making sure you get enough rest and avoiding caffeine and alcoholic beverages may help lessen or prevent these palpitations," Dr. Morris advises.

Those who overindulge in alcohol not only during the holidays but also on a regular basis need to understand they are risking serious and even irreversible heart damage, he adds. "Alcohol in large doses clearly has a toxic effect on the heart muscle and can cause alcoholic cardiomyopathy. The heart muscle becomes weak and doesn't contract well, " says Dr. Morris. "The best way to avoid serious alcohol related heart problems, as well as the usually benign Holiday Heart Syndrome, is to drink alcohol in moderation, or not all."

The Emory Heart Center is comprised of all cardiology services and research at Emory University Hospital (EUH), Emory Crawford Long Hospital (ECLH) Carlyle Fraser Heart Center, the Andreas Gruentzig Cardiovascular Center of Emory University and the Emory Clinic. Ranked in the top ten of U.S. News & World Report's annual survey of the nation's best Heart Centers, the Emory Heart Center has a rich history of excellence in all areas of cardiology - including education, research and patient care. It is also internationally recognized as one of the birthplaces of modern interventional cardiology.

Return to December Index

For more general information on The Robert W. Woodruff Health Sciences Center
call Health Sciences Communication's Office at 404-727-5686,
or send e-mail to

Copyright © Emory University, 2001. All Rights Reserved.