Holiday heart syndrome (HHS) is a heart condition that typically develops as a result of excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking. It is so-called because it most often occurs during the holiday season.

The primary symptom of HHS is a fast and irregular heartbeat. However, most cases of HHS are reversible, as long as a person receives an early diagnosis and either quits drinking alcohol or drastically reduces their alcohol consumption.

This article describes what HHS is, including its causes, symptoms, treatment, and prevention.

A shadow of a drink near a Christmas tree to represent holiday heart syndrome.Share on Pinterest
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HHS is a heart condition that medical professionals call “alcohol-induced atrial arrhythmia.” This is because the condition typically relates to heavy alcohol consumption.

HHS involves short-term disruption to the electrical impulses that ordinarily keep the heart functioning typically. This can result in a type of irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation (AF).

AF can increase the risk of cardiovascular issues, such as stroke and heart failure. Therefore, HHS is a common cause of heart disease in the United States.

A 2022 review outlines the below factors as potential causes of HHS.

Excessive alcohol consumption

Alcohol affects the force with which the heart muscle contracts, and this may lead to conditions such as HHS and AF.

A 2021 review reported that even short-term alcohol intoxication affects heart contractions.

A 2020 study notes the association between excessive alcohol consumption and the increased incidence of AF. Likewise, the authors of a 2022 review of HHS note that alcohol consumption may account for between 5% and 35% of new AF cases. This figure may be as high as 63% when accounting for new AF cases among people younger than 65 years.

The 2020 study found that abstaining from alcohol reduced attacks of arrhythmia in regular drinkers with AF.


A 2016 study reports an increase in heart failure admission rates relating to Christmas and Independence Day holidays. They cited “emotional stressors” as one of the possible reasons for their findings, along with factors that included:

  • overeating
  • reduced exercise
  • postponement of medical care


A 2019 study highlighted emerging evidence that low hydration levels could harm heart health. The researchers highlighted observational studies linking continually low fluid intake with an increased risk of future heart damage. They found that even short-term dehydration can harm blood vessel function and blood pressure regulation.


A 2018 review notes that a Western diet high in salt, added sugars, and trans fatty acids can promote cardiovascular disease (CD). The researchers added that a Mediterranean diet of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, and oily fish helps protect against CD.

The following factors may increase a person’s risk of developing AF, the primary symptom of HHS:

A 2021 study suggested that more young adults now experience HHS due to an increase in binge drinking culture among younger people.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm irregularity relating to HHS. Possible signs and symptoms of AF include:

Doctors do not yet fully understand the biological processes involved in HHS.

When diagnosing the condition, a doctor will ask a person about their symptoms and medical history. They will also carry out a physical examination.

To make an accurate diagnosis, the doctor must run tests to rule out other possible cardiovascular conditions.

Diagnostic tests

There is no definitive diagnostic test for HHS. However, the following tests can assist in its diagnosis:

  • Complete blood count: Measures the different components of the blood to give an overall assessment of health.
  • Comprehensive metabolic panel: Checks the body’s chemical balance and energy usage.
  • Liver function tests: Check how well the liver is working.
  • Blood or urine alcohol tests: Check whether a person currently has alcohol in their system.
  • Cardiac troponin test: This test checks for the presence of troponin proteins, which the body releases following cardiac damage.

Other tools doctors may use to diagnose HHS include:

  • EKG: A test that helps detect an irregular heartbeat.
  • Chest X-ray: An imaging test that can look for abnormalities in the lungs and cardiomegaly, the medical term for an enlarged heart.
  • Echocardiogram: A type of ultrasound scan that checks for structural or functional abnormalities of the heart.

The treatment a person receives for HHS depends on the type of heart arrhythmia they experience.

The most common arrhythmia relating to HHS is AF. A person who experiences AF may receive a treatment called cardioversion, which involves delivering rapid, low-energy shocks to the heart to stabilize its rhythm.

HHS is often reversible. Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption can reduce the recurrence of heart problems relating to alcohol use.

If a person receives an early diagnosis of HHS, and they eliminate or adequately reduce their alcohol consumption, their heart should return to its typical function.

The steps below can help to prevent a recurrence of HHS.

Lifestyle changes

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends the following tips for reducing the risk of complications relating to AF:

  • eating a heart-healthy diet that is low in the following:
  • keeping cholesterol under control
  • managing high blood pressure
  • avoiding consuming excessive alcohol and caffeine
  • avoiding smoking
  • engaging in regular physical activity
  • maintaining a moderate weight

Support groups

People with an addiction to alcohol may benefit from joining a support group, such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). A person can search for their nearest meeting on the AA website.

Talking therapies

A person with an alcohol use disorder may find it beneficial to talk with a trained mental health professional on a one-to-one basis. A counselor or therapist can help someone address the cause of their addiction.

Factors that can increase a person’s risk of developing alcohol dependency or misuse include:

  • financial hardship
  • work stress
  • relationship issues
  • drug use

HHS is a type of heart condition that typically occurs due to excessive alcohol consumption. Other possible causes include overindulging in nonnutritious foods, dehydration, and raised stress levels.

The primary symptom of HHS is a type of heart arrhythmia called AF. A person with AF may experience symptoms such as heart palpitations, shortness of breath, and lightheadedness. Without treatment, AF can increase the risk of stroke and heart failure.

HHS is often reversible if a person receives an early diagnosis and immediately stops or drastically reduces alcohol consumption. As such, anyone with concerns about HHS or possible issues with alcohol dependency should make an appointment with their doctor.