AUSTIN (KXAN) — The holidays can be a lovely time to relax, have some fun and indulge. While this season is considered the most wonderful time of year, it is also recognized as the peak time of year for cardiovascular issues. 

This is in part due to a condition called holiday heart syndrome – when a person who did not previously have an arrhythmia develops one. Experts think the culprit is the steady flow of booze into your cup at holiday parties or elsewhere during this time. 

“It’s thought to be due to an increase in alcohol intake around the holiday season,” said Dr. Vivek Goswami, a Cardiologist with Heart Hospital of Austin and Austin Heart. “(Holiday heart syndrome) can induce the top chambers of the heart into an irregular rhythm. This can cause things like fast heart rate, palpitations, and even increased risk of heart failure or stroke,” he continued. 

This condition was first documented in 1978. A doctor described the phenomenon as the emergence of an arrhythmia in healthy people after an episode of binge drinking. He called it holiday heart syndrome because this appeared to happen most frequently after weekends or public holidays. 

The increase in cardiovascular issues during the holidays does not stop at holiday heart syndrome, though. Goswami said, more generally, there is an increase in cardiovascular risk during the holiday season. 

“There are physiologic mechanisms, there are psychological mechanisms, and then there’s logistical medication,” he said. 

For the physiological, he said some times people might engage in activities they are not used to, such as skiing or snow shoveling. Conversely, people might usually exercise and slow their activity during this time. Also, people who are not acclimated to the cold may have difficulty with the change in temperature. 

Goswami said this time of year can be more stressful or bring on depression for some. 

“And of course, we know that things like depression, directly correlate to an increase in cardiovascular risk,” he said. 

And then, logistically, people may forget to bring medication on trips or develop symptoms and not seek medical attention because they do not want to feel like a burden to the family. 

“There are a lot of things stacked up against us,” he said. “And we really encourage people, especially people with pre-existing cardiovascular disease, to recognize that it’s important to stay on schedule as much as possible.”

“And it’s important that, if you do develop symptoms that may be consistent with cardiovascular disease, don’t necessarily worry about being a burden on your family to seek medical attention.” 

To avoid these types of issues, Goswami said to, of course, practice moderation. He said it’s alright to have a couple of drinks or an unhealthy meal but not to deviate from your usual non-holiday routine as much as possible.