Well-Being Prevention & Cures

Just one alcoholic drink can raise your risk of an irregular heartbeat

Story at a glance

  • The chances of an incident of atrial fibrillation rise with alcohol consumption.
  • A study observed 100 participants for four weeks.
  • A vast majority of participants were white, potentially limiting the applicability of the study.

The number of alcoholic beverages an individual consumes could have direct effects over their heartbeat, according to a new study.

Published in the Annals of Internal Medicine and funded by the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, researchers used a case-crossover analysis to determine a connection between alcohol consumption and instances of atrial fibrillation, a cardiovascular condition where the heart’s two chambers beat irregularly.

Atrial fibrillation is a serious health complication. The Mayo Clinic notes that an atrial fibrillation can lead to blood clots that may block blood flow to other organs. Symptoms range from quick heartbeats, shortness of breath and general weakness. 

In the study, 100 participants were assigned an electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor and ankle ethanol sensor for four weeks to gauge heart beats and alcohol consumption.

Out of the group, 56 participants reported at least one episode of atrial fibrillation. A cardiovascular incident was associated with higher chances with just one alcoholic drink, and even stronger changes developed with at least two drinks.

“This demonstrates that whenever we consume alcohol, it is presumably having a nearly immediate effect on the electrical workings of our hearts,” Gregory Marcus, an author of the study and a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told The New York Times.

While the study links alcohol consumption to a higher chance of atrial fibrillation, it adds that this study is evidence that preventative behavior can enforce positive health outcomes.

“Individual [atrial fibrillation] episodes were associated with higher odds of recent alcohol consumption, providing objective evidence that a modifiable behavior may influence the probability that a discrete AF event will occur,” the report concludes.

Notably, 85 percent of study participants were white, with the average age hovering at 64 years old, which limits its applicability to a broader population.

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