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Alcohol can immediately increase the risk of atrial fibrillation, study finds

Consumers don’t need to be heavy drinkers to experience heart health risks

Photo (c) itakdalee - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from the University of California at San Francisco explored the heart health risks associated with alcohol consumption. 

Their findings showed that having just one drink can immediately increase the risk of atrial fibrillation. 

“Common to contrary belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk,” said researcher Dr. Gregory Marcus. “Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable. Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.” 

Alcohol can affect heart rate

For the study, the researchers had 100 atrial fibrillation patients wear an electrocardiogram (ECG) for four weeks. All of the participants reported having at least one alcoholic drink per month before the study started. Over the course of the study, they recorded every time they drank alcohol by pressing a button on the ECG device. 

The study showed that alcohol increased the risk of an atrial fibrillation episode, and the more the participants drank, the higher the risk of atrial fibrillation. 

Having two or more drinks within four hours made atrial fibrillation three times more likely. Having just one drink made the condition twice as likely. 

While it’s unclear how consumers without a history of atrial fibrillation would respond to alcohol, the findings highlight the risks that alcohol poses to those with preexisting heart conditions or concerns.

“The effects seem to be fairly linear: the more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk of an acute AF event,” said Dr. Marcus. “These observations mirror what has been reported by patients for decades, but this is the first objective, measurable evidence that a modifiable exposure may acutely influence the chance that an AF episode will occur.” 

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