Alcohol Linked with A-fib Events

The last long weekend of summer may include some dock or deck time, an outdoor concert, or perhaps a stroll through an art fair.  For many people, a holiday weekend also includes great food and a few adult beverages.  But if you have A-fib, a heart rhythm abnormality, you may want to rethink that glass of rosé or bottle of pale ale. 

A new study has found that just one serving of alcohol can double the risk of atrial fibrillation in people with a history of the condition within four hours of imbibing.  Having two or more drinks tripled the odds of having an A-fib event among study participants.  Atrial fibrillation can lead to serious outcomes, including stroke, so understanding the risk is important for people with a history of A-fib. 

Although many studies have suggested that moderate alcohol consumption – one drink per day for women and no more than two for men, may be beneficial for heart health, this new study suggests that people with A-fib may want to cut back or avoid alcohol altogether.  

The number of adults with atrial fibrillation is rapidly rising and according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, by 2030 an estimated 12.1 million Americans are expected to have the condition. Risk factors for A-fib include high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, a family history of arrhythmias, and European ancestry.  Over time, A-fib can lead to heart failure and stroke.  

Many people underestimate and underreport to their doctors how much they really drink.  But the new study, which recruited 100 people with a history of A-fib, used a monitor to track heart rhythms throughout the day and night.   Study participants were instructed to press a button each time they had an alcoholic beverage and ankle monitors also tracked blood alcohol levels.  Routine blood tests during the four-week study also measured a biomarker that indicates recent alcohol consumption. 

During the course of the study, more than half of participants experienced an A-fib event and the data found that the higher a person’s blood alcohol concentration, the greater chance there was for an arrhythmia.  Since most of the study participants were men, more research with a larger sample of women is needed.  But the findings offer a positive message for people with atrial fibrillation – there are lifestyle factors within their control to change that can help reduce the risk for arrhythmias.  Although alcohol consumption increased with the pandemic, there are also many non-alcoholic beverages available today that capture the celebratory vibe without the risks.   Cheers!