Study Confirms Alcohol Consumption as a Risk Factor for Afib

April 14, 2022

Man drinking a beer considers if alcohol consumption could contribute to or impact his atrial fibrillation

We have long known that lifestyle choices play a big part in the risk factors associated with atrial fibrillation or Afib. There are other components to the risk of developing heart arrhythmias, but a number of these are modifiable – meaning we can change them.

One risk factor that is less understood but confirmed in a recent study is the role of alcohol in Afib. The study sought to find out whether alcohol triggered an episode in those who were currently suffering from paroxysmal or occasional Afib. A relatively small study of 100 patients with an average age of 64 showed that even one drink can increase the risk of an Afib episode by two times, and two drinks can triple the risk of an Afib episode. This was true regardless of the type of alcohol consumed and was noticed very shortly after consuming the drink(s).1

Does That Mean I Shouldn’t Drink? I Thought It Was Good for the Heart

Over the years, there has been conflicting information about whether moderate drinking protects the heart. The consensus seems to be that some red wine over the course of a week – averaging out to about a glass a day – may be protective for your heart. Bear in mind that this should not be used as any treatment, nor should you drink if your cardiologist or electrophysiologist has told you not to. This study also suggests that those with Afib should reconsider their consumption of alcohol.

Dr. Banker‘s Take

We’ve had plenty of evidence to show that heavy drinking does affect the heart, including increasing the risk of Afib. This study seems to reinforce that and tells us that lower quantities of alcohol negatively affect heart rhythm as well.

It is worth noting that it may not only be the alcohol itself but also the other items we consume while drinking that may make a difference. For example, as you loosen up, you may begin to indulge in less than healthy foods (high sodium, high fat, high sugar, etc.). Further, alcohol is a diuretic which means it flushes water out of the body. Dehydration can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation and other heart-related disorders.

Regardless of the causes, Afib is a progressive disorder, meaning that it may start as occasional, but often leads to a more persistent problem. You will also recall from our website and your other research that Afib increases the risk of stroke, heart attack, and heart failure significantly. Therefore, even if Afib episodes seem to occur only after a night of drinking, the condition must be adequately treated with medication or a curative catheter ablation procedure.

As to whether you should quit drinking, there seem to be more risks than benefits in consuming alcohol – patients would be well served to moderate their drinking and if you are experiencing Afib episodes after drinking even one glass, it is best to stop until your cardiologist or electrophysiologist tells you otherwise.

Most importantly, Afib requires treatment. So, if you are experiencing an irregular heartbeat or your primary care physician has suggested you visit a cardiologist or electrophysiologist, do so sooner rather than later. Today’s treatments for Afib and other arrhythmias are less invasive and more effective than at any time in the past. A consultation with Dr. Banker can give you the information you need to choose the best course of action going forward.