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    HHS and Gifts

    by Ngozi Osuagwu, MD | December 17th, 2023

    HHS and Gifts

    It is in the news again – holiday heart syndrome. I mentioned it last year because it was the first time I heard of this syndrome, and I have been in practice for a long time. More people appear to die from heart attacks between Christmas and New Year’s Day than any other period throughout the year.  

    Holiday heart syndrome (HHS) is a heart condition that typically develops due to excessive alcohol consumption or binge drinking. It is amazing what happens when alcohol is free at a party. This causes an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation (AF). Atrial fibrillation causes heart issues like stroke and heart failure. The symptoms include:

    • Irregular heartbeat
    • Heart palpitations
    • Lightheadedness
    • Extreme fatigue
    • Shortness of breath
    • Chest pain

    Holiday heart syndrome can happen to anyone and any age. You can be at risk even if you are not drinking much. If you have any of the symptoms above, it is essential to seek medical attention. Listen to your body. If you do not feel right, tell someone and get help.

    How do we protect our hearts during the holidays?

    Hydrate – Alcohol tends to cause dehydration. If you are going to drink alcohol, try drinking a glass of water between each alcoholic drink. (This is also a reminder not to drink and drive; have a designated driver for the night). Hydration is essential even if you are not drinking alcohol. Running around and forgetting to keep hydrated can lead to some of the symptoms mentioned above.

    Do not skip medication – It is essential to take your medicine, especially your blood pressure medication, as directed. Missing days of your medication is not safe. When traveling, take your medicines with you. If you forgot your medication, you could call your physician to send a prescription to the pharmacy near you to get you through. Also, remember that pharmacies have holiday hours. You may need to get your prescription ahead of time.

    Find time for fitness – We tend to get off our routine during the holidays. Doing something is better than doing nothing. Go up and down the stairs, walk around the block, and dance in place – move, move, move.

    Manage stress – Stress can increase your risk of heart disease. 

    Remember, you can only do what you can do. It is okay if the gift cannot arrive under the tree by December 25. Take time to breathe. You should not rob a bank to buy gifts. Do not spend more than you can afford. It makes no sense to enter the New Year stressed about bills you incurred over the past year. Some of the most valuable gifts do not cost you anything in terms of money.

    If you are still wondering what to give your loved ones, here are some gift suggestions:

    1. Gift cards/cash – This never gets old. The advantage of this gift is that the person can buy what they want. They can use it for anything. Often, I enjoy hearing what the person has used the gift to do.
    1. Keep it simple  – Think about what you use every day – could someone also use it – pair of socks, tongue scraper, apple slicer, bag of fruits, nail filer, note cards with stamps, package of your favorite teas/coffee, picture frame with a picture from your phone (we have a lot of digital pictures, it takes time to develop and then put in a frame), car kit (mask, gloves, hand sanitizer & tissue), favorite snacks, cleaning supplies, plant.
    1. Baked goods – If you are good at making a particular item that your family or friends love, you might choose to make that item and send it to them.
    1. Gift of time – There is so much that you can do. Volunteer to babysit to give a mother time to run errands. Run errands for a friend. Do laundry. Take an older person to a doctor’s appointment. Spend time with an older person. The list is endless. Make yourself available.
    1. Words of wisdom – We all have a story of life’s lessons. Write them down and share them.

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