How You Can Avoid Holiday Heart Syndrome

Enjoy the holidays while keeping your heart healthy
Christmas lunch

You’ve had the roasted turkey, mashed potatoes, fruitcake and (admittedly maybe some cookies, too) and a few glasses of eggnog. And while, certainly, the holidays are all about celebrating with friends and family, those good times often lead to overindulgence.

Advertising Policy

Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy

Too much food, sweets and alcohol can do more damage to your body than wrecking a diet, says cardiologist Leslie Cho, MD. It can lead to holiday heart syndrome — or heart trouble experienced after too much salty food or alcohol.

“One of the things we always tell our patients is that you can have whatever you want, but it has to be in moderation,” she says.

Why holiday heart syndrome happens

Sometimes even healthy people may notice a rapid heartbeat or skipped beats after drinking too much alcohol, which typically isn’t cause for concern.

But Dr. Cho says alcohol and salty foods increase your blood pressure. This can worsen the risk of heart failure in people who already have heart problems.

For many people, the holidays mean that special foods are suddenly in abundance, such as cookies, candy and rich dishes. And it’s not just one meal, but a round of eating, drinking and making merry that is markedly different from the rest of the year.

Advertising Policy

“We’re often surrounded by lots of food during this time,” Dr. Cho says. “So whether you’re in the office or whether you’re with your family, you tend to eat foods that are very different than your normal diet.”

Have fun, but don’t overdo it

Planning ahead when attending a party is important, Dr. Cho says.

Dr. Cho does not recommend that you avoid all holiday treats at all costs. But she emphasizes that it’s important to be aware of what you’re eating and how much you’re eating can go a long way toward staying on track.

“Oftentimes people are like, ‘Oh my gosh, you know I can’t have anything,” Dr. Cho says. “No, you can have everything you want — except you must have it in moderation and be mindful of what you’re eating.”

She recommends having a smaller breakfast and lunch if you know you’re going to have a big dinner that evening. Or, eat before you go so you’re not tempted to overdo it. And if you’d like to have dessert (because Aunt Mary makes the best gingerbread yule log), take a smaller slice.

Advertising Policy

At the party, be wary of foods that are heavy in cream, sugar or salt. Also, Dr. Cho advises against drinking alcohol in excess. It’s OK to have a cocktail, she says, but enjoy it slowly, throughout the evening instead of binge drinking. 

After-the-party considerations

It’s important to be mindful after a night of holiday indulgence too, Dr. Cho says. That bottle of Tylenol® or Advil® you reach for to relieve those hangover symptoms can put even more stress on the heart.

“They tend to increase your blood pressure too,” said Dr. Cho. “So, if they increase your blood pressure, some people end up having heart failure because it’s like a vicious cycle. So, it’s really important just to watch what you’re eating and doing.”

If you already have heart failure, she recommends keeping a close eye on your weight and blood pressure during the holidays. If symptoms or numbers are concerning, she says it’s best to contact a medical professional.

Advertising Policy