UCSD Health SciencesUCSD Health Sciences
December 13, 2000 

Media Contact: Kate Deely Smith (619) 543-6163

Holiday Heart Syndrome

Daniel Blanchard, M.D., UCSD Cardiovascular Center, Associate Professor of Cardiology

Although for some people the holidays can be heartwarming they can also be harmful for the heart. The Holiday Heart Syndrome is the association between excessive alcohol consumption and rapid cardiac beating Ė or arrhythmia - in a person who otherwise has a healthy heart.

Holiday Heart Syndrome occurs in people who both regularly consume a lot of alcohol as well as those who usually drink little or no alcohol, but who have an alcohol binge or drink in excess, which can be common during the holidays. Dr. Blanchard said people experiencing the Holiday Heart Syndrome most often appear at the emergency room during holiday party season and graduation time.

The syndrome usually subsides on its own, but medical attention is recommended. Another recommendation Dr. Blanchard makes is "watch your alcohol intake during the holidays."

Handling the first holiday after a loved one has died

Stephen Shuchter, M.D., UCSD professor of psychiatry

An expert on grief, Dr. Shuchter has three suggestions for individuals facing the first holiday after a loved one has died:

  1. Donít be surprised at the power of the re-emergence of the grief experience. Recognize that itís not unusual to re-experience the intense sadness and memories.
  2. In anticipation of the holidays, have an adequate support system of family and/or friends who have gone through a similar loss.
  3. Have structured plans or you might be left alone to grieve. Plan to be with your supportive family or friends. And, consider a planned event or experience planned around the person who died, such as a visit to the cemetery with a friend or family member.

Helping a family member with Alzheimerís to enjoy the holidays

Lisa Snyder, LCSW, UCSD Alzheimerís Disease Research Center

Remembering that Alzheimerís is a disease that makes life and surroundings confusing to the patient, you can help by simplifying your holiday celebrations with quieter, smaller gatherings of family and friends. Alzheimerís patients can be overwhelmed by crowds and may be embarrassed at the inability to remember a name. Rather than a large group, focus on one-to-one interactions. Make modifications that help keep the patient involved and that help him/her be successful in an activity. For example, ask the patient to put one or two ornaments on the tree or put freshly baked cookies in the cookie tin.

And, consider everyoneís expectations, the patientís, your family, and yours. Holidays bring out feelings of loss and recognition of what the Alzheimerís patient has lost that can be painful for everyone. Ask family and friends to consider gifts with special meaning, such as soothing music or nature videos, or perhaps a photo album or scrapbook that can be enjoyed together with the patient.

Ladder Safety During The Holidays

Jeffrey Smith, M.D., UCSD Division of Orthopaedic Trauma, Assistant Professor of Orthopaedics

Decorating for the holidays can be just as dangerous as it is fun, especially when using a ladder to hang lights and ornaments. More than half a million people are treated each year in emergency rooms for ladder accidents when doing household duties such as painting, cleaning and decorating.

The injuries that result from ladder accidents are more severe than you would expect, including severe fractures to the heel, knee and spine. Before climbing a ladder, take some precautions. Amongst other things, make sure the locks are secured and the bottom and top of the rails are on firm surfaces. The soles of your shoes should be clean and dry so they donít slip from the ladder rungs.