Holiday stress and booze spark uptick in heart conditions, doctors say

AUSTIN (KXAN) -- Stress from last-minute shopping, drinking too much at a holiday party and overeating Christmas cookies. Doctors say all of those factors combined could lead to a condition called Holiday Heart.

It starts with a rapid, irregular heartbeat and spirals out of control. Doctors at the Heart Hospital of Austin say they may see more patients leading into 2018 because of it.

Dr. Paul Pagley is a cardiologist at the hospital. He says Holiday Heart could lead to cardiac arrest. It is worsened by stress, overeating - and most importantly - too much alcohol.

"The alcohol is a bit of a toxin to the heart," he said. "And, when you have that excess amount of alcohol, it affects the electrical system [of the heart] that puts you at risk for this."

April Gimnich works in Austin. She is in charge of her company's Christmas party. Add in her own Christmas celebration and stress can take over fast.

"You're not sleeping. You're stressed and going shopping," she said. "When you should normally be at home resting. And, driving is worse."

Amber Anguiano is her co-worker, who is helping Gimnich plan the party. She said her holiday sweet tooth usually takes over at this time of year.

"You can do the healthy stuff all through the year," Anguiano said. "The holiday is to indulge."

Dr. Pagley said the Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's line-up is the prime time for Holiday Heart; and, it can strike anyone.

"It will frequently happen in people who have no known heart problems, no heart problems at all," Pagley said. "And, it can be a worse problem in people with know heart problem."

To avoid it, maximize the moderation and silence the stress, he said. "It's a matter of just trying to make sure you don't overdo it."

Doctors say they are not sure why alcohol exacerbates Holiday Heart. Researchers believe that alcohol may act as a poison, affecting the heart's electrical system.

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