Be careful if you get a 'holiday heart syndrome' diagnosis

The holidays can be hard on the heart -- literally. Too much eating, drinking and stress can lead to what is known as "holiday heart syndrome."

That's the term people in the medical community use to explain the rise in patients they see in emergency rooms with atrial fibrillation (AFib). That's an irregular or fast heartbeat. It often feels like your heart is fluttering or racing. Patients may be short of breath, lightheaded, fatigued and/or have chest pain.

While AFib isn't the same as a heart attack, it shouldn't be left untreated. It can lead to more serious heart problems, a stroke or blood clots. AFib typically strikes people who are otherwise healthy.

Many doctors point to alcohol as the main culprit behind holiday heart syndrome. As one cardiologist says, "People who are not alcoholics would go from an office party, to a private party that night to having relatives over the next day, drinking in each scenario. Over a short period of time you can call that binge drinking." Another doctor says, "About 60% of binge drinkers at one point will experience an atrial fibrillation episode."

However, the symptoms that accompany AFib can also be signs of a heart attack. Heart attack symptoms can vary significantly from one person to another. There are many more symptoms of a heart attack than chest pain. Women who suffer heart attacks often have very different symptoms than men -- including jaw, neck, back and stomach pain. That's one reason why heart disease kills more women than any other health condition.

It's essential that doctors do the appropriate tests to determine the cause of a person's symptoms rather than write them off as holiday heart syndrome. Just as holiday celebrating, stress and activity can lead to AFib, it can also lead to heart attacks. If you or a loved one was harmed by a misdiagnosis that shouldn't have happened, it may be wise to determine if it is medical malpractice and if you have legal recourse.

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