SAN FRANCISCO — Having one glass of wine or a can of beer immediately raises the risk of a experiencing atrial fibrillation, or AFib, an irregular heartbeat that can sometimes be fatal, a new study shows. Researchers note that their experiment is the first to measure risk using real-time and objective methods, eliminating recall bias or errors in self-reporting.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common cardiac arrhythmia. Long-term alcohol use has been associated with the development of AFib, while avoiding booze has been associated with reduced risk. However, scientists say the specific and near-term relationship between drinking alcohol and AFib is difficult to determine because of how commonly alcohol is consumed.
“Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk,” explains Dr. Gregory Marcus, a professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California San Francisco, in a statement.
Marcus and his team studied 100 adults with intermittent atrial fibrillation who consumed at least one drink per month to determine if drinking alcohol increased the risk for an acute AFib event. Participants wore an electrocardiogram monitor to record the time and length of each episode. They also were fitted a sensor that detected when alcohol was consumed. Blood tests were also taken periodically.
Participants typically consumed one drink each day on average during the study period.
At four weeks, the researchers compared the number of AFib events and whether or not the episodes were preceded by alcohol use.
The findings, published in Annals of Internal Medicine, showed that of the 56 participants who had an episode of AFib, it was about twice as likely that they had had alcohol in the four hours before the episode. The more alcohol a participant drank, the greater the risk of quickly experiencing an irregular heartbeat.
“Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable,” adds Marcus. “Instead, there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.”
South West News Service writer Stephen Beech contributed to this report.