With the Holidays and New Years right around the corner, it’s important to examine how your changing habits around these festivities can affect your AFib. How do the holidays actually affect a person's atrial fibrillation or potentially increase a person's risk for getting episodes of AFib? There are a variety of ways in which the holidays can affect a person's AFib and trigger episodes.
1) Increased Stress
The holidays can certainly increase a person's stress. Stress can come from a variety of angles, whether it be having to deal with house guests or holiday get-togethers, the stress of having to go out and buy presents, or the stress that comes along with the “giving” nature of the season and feeling responsible for caring for your loved ones. Also increased travel and therefore decreased regularity of routines can also be mentally and physically taxing. All of these factors can increase stress levels, which then affect your body in other ways. Often times, people eat less healthy and increase their alcohol consumption when they're stressed, both of which can trigger AFib episodes.
2) Interrupted Sleep Habits
Sleep habits may also be affected during times of increased stress around the holidays. You may be going to bed later, or you may have become restless during the night and therefore your overall nightly sleep will decrease. Increased travel can also cause folks to wake very early or travel overnights or at odd hours- disrupting this sleep schedule further. These factors that lead to decreased or interrupted sleep can also potentially trigger an episode of atrial fibrillation.
One of the most common ways that the holidays affect AFib is alcohol. It's so common, in fact, that it has its own medical term. This term is Holiday Heart Syndrome, first described back in the 1970s when doctors noticed an increase of people showing up to the hospital and to the emergency room with episodes of AFib on the weekends and holidays. Much of this influx of patients had been attributed to increased alcohol usage, many times significant alcohol usage.
There are several ways in which alcohol use can affect a person with AFib or trigger an episode. If a patient is severely intoxicated, the alcohol itself could have cause toxicity of the heart cells and trigger episodes of AFib. The dehydration that comes along with alcohol usage is a also a common trigger for AFib. Disrupted sleep and unhealthy eating habits as a result of alcohol use are also contributing factors. When these are all combined, the results could be very dangerous for someone living with AFIb.
I recommend that my patients keep alcohol use to a minimum or abstain altogether. However, if they chose to drink some alcohol, I recommend that they are careful to balance it with plenty of water to try to minimize the dehydration and therefore reduce the possibility of the alcohol triggering an AFib episode.
My tips for those living with AFib this holiday season:
1. Minimize stress as much as possible
2. Maintain your sleep schedule as best as possible
3. Try to minimize alcohol usage as best as possible.
With these tips (and the implementation of the recommendations!) someone living with AFib is much more likely to enjoy a happy and healthy holiday season.