THOSE overindulging this Christmas have been warned about a ‘silent killer’ that can strike during the festive period.
For most people the festive season means indulging and enjoying all our favourite food and drinks.
While you might not think an extra eggnog or another glass of bubbles will do any harm, medics have said it could trigger a deadly heart condition.
Atrial fibrillation or AF is a condition where the heart beats abnormally.
AF, which is sometimes referred to as ‘holiday heart syndrome’, doesn’t always cause noticeable symptoms, and someone with an irregular or quickened heart rate may not realise they have the condition.
In serious cases and if left untreated, it can prove deadly, experts say.
While scientists aren’t sure how common the condition is, they say it usually comes on after drinking too much booze.
Senior lecturer in chemical pathology at the University of Westminster, Dr David C Gaze, said it could lead to a heart attack.
A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you’re resting.
But when you have AF, it becomes irregular and can reach considerably higher than 100 beats per minute.
Dr Gaze said the condition is rare in people under the age of 30.
He said: “Isolated episodes of it in the young are often attributed to endurance exercise, recreational drug use and obesity.”
“However, the most common cause is binge drinking,” he said writing in The Conversation.
One study conducted in Copenhagen found over a thousand cases of AF in men and women when they analysed 16,500 people.
They found that heavy alcohol use was present in five per cent of the men analysed and that the condition was 1.5 per cent higher in people who were binge drinkers compared to those who didn’t drink at all, and those who drank moderately.
Dr Gaze said it’s unclear why drinking booze is related to arrhythmia but that it may be a direct toxic effect of alcohol on the cells of the heart muscle.
He added that it may also be an indirect toxic effect from the breakdown of alcohol products (metabolites) either on the heart itself or other organs, such as the endocrine adrenal glands, which are located on the top of each kidney.
He said there are several reasons as to why this might happen.
First, alcohol interferes with the nerve conduction in the heart, altering the rate of nerve signal transmission across the heart muscle.
“Second, alcohol can increase the release of adrenaline from either the adrenal glands or the heart tissue, which can change the heartbeat leading to arrhythmia.
“Third, fatty acids in the blood increase following alcohol consumption and are thought to be associated with the development of AF.
“Lastly, the alcohol metabolite acetaldehyde can increase the rate of abnormal muscle contraction).”
Studies have previously revealed that people who had had Covid are at an increased risk of AF.
A study published in the European Society of Cardiology also found that energy drinks – which have high levels of caffeine, can lead to a number of adverse conditions.
The experts explained these include angina, cardiac arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) and even sudden death.
If you are worried about any of your symptoms you should see your GP.
In the event of an emergency, always call 999 or visit your closest emergency department.
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