Page last updated: Monday, November 14, 2005
Link between heavy drinking and atrial fibrillation
A study led by researchers at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) has found that heavy alcohol consumption- that is 35 or more drinks per week,significantly increase men’s risk of developing atrial fibrillation, a dangerous type of arrhythmia and one of the leading risk factors for stroke.

The findings show that risk of this rapid, irregular heartbeat is as much as 45% higher among heavy drinkers than abstainers, and supports the existence of what has come to be known as holiday heart syndrome. “Holiday heart syndrome refers to heart rhythm disturbances which develop while a person is on vacation or away from work, and appears to be linked to heavier-than-normal alcohol consumption,” explains the study’s lead author Kenneth J. Mukamal, MD, MPH, an internist in BIDMC’s Division of General Medicine and Primary Care.

Atrial fibrillation develops when muscles in the heart’s upper chambers contract too quickly, resulting in an ineffective, irregular heartbeat. As a result, blood is not adequately pumped from the heart, and may pool and form clots. Blood clots that travel to the brain result in a stroke, and, indeed, statistics show that having atrial fibrillation results in a nearly five-fold increase in a person’s stroke risk.

Using information obtained from the Copenhagen City Heart Study in Denmark, the researchers studied 16,415 individuals with an average age of 50. After adjusting for numerous factors including smoking, education, income, physical activity, body mass index, and diabetes, the researchers analyzed data concerning the participants’ consumption of alcohol (beer, wine or spirits). The researchers documented 1,071 cases of atrial fibrillation during the study period. “This was certainly the largest study of its type to examine this topic and while it is reassuring that moderate drinkers did not seem to have an increased risk of this hazardous heart rhythm, our findings provide yet more evidence of the risks of heavy drinking to the heart.”

Source: Mukamal KJ et al. Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation in Men and Women. The Copenhagen City Heart Study. Circulation 2005

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