How is alcohol consumption related to AFib?

by Rebecca Israel, MS. Reviewed by Charles Li, MD

July 13, 2020

  • Alcohol is a common trigger for individuals with AFib.

  • Individuals who consume significant amounts of alcohol are at higher risk of developing AFib.

  • For people with AFib, abstaining from alcohol can reduce the burden of epsiodic symptoms.

alcohol and afib title

Heart health can be a heavy topic. Our hearts pump blood through our entire body and keep all of our organs working correctly. Some people are born with heart defects or are genetically predisposed to heart conditions. Other people develop heart conditions from their lifestyle choices and health behaviors.

Alcohol has been associated with almost any disease you can think of. Alcohol can increase your risk of a disease (like liver disease) or make a disease worse (like depression). As for heart health, alcohol often does both. A good example of a heart condition effected by alcohol is atrial fibrillation, or AFib.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm problem. The condition puts you at risk of stroke and other problems as well as death. Another term for atrial fibrillation is "A-fib."

UpToDate

AFib Triggers

People diagnosed with AFib experience symptoms episodically. During an AFib episode, a person feels chest tightness, an increased or abnormal heart rate, dizziness, and trouble breathing. As you can imagine, these episodes are scary. To understand what triggers an episode, researchers asked 1295 people with symptomatic AFib about their experience.

Of 1295 participants with symptomatic AF, 957 (74%) reported triggers for episodes of AF.

Source: Patient-reported triggers of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation

Based on the sample's responses, the majority of people with AFib had known triggers. The most common triggers were alcohol, caffeine, exercise, and lack of sleep.

Alcohol consumption and risk of AFib

To explore this relationship, researchers identified 79,019 participants from multiple medical databases. They followed participants for 12 years, and recorded alcohol consumption and incidence of AFib. At the end of the study, there were 7,245 cases of Fib.

People who drink more than 15 drinks in a week are at higher risk for AFib

Source: Alcohol Consumption and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation: A Prospective Study and Dose-Response Meta-Analysis

Based on the results, drinking 15 or more alcoholic beverages a week was associated with at least a 14% increased risk of developing AFib. They also found that the more alcohol participants drank, the greater their risk of AFib. These findings are consistent with previous studies. In fact, other studies have found an even greater risk of AFib in participants drinking as little as one alcoholic beverage a day.

Abstaining from alcohol to reduce AFib symptoms

Researchers wanted to see if taking away alcohol could improve the symptomatic episodes of patients diagnosed with AFib. They recruited 140 patients from six hospitals in Australia who reported consuming 10 or more drinks per week. Half of the sample were instructed to abstain from alcohol and the other half continued their usual drinking habits. Over six months, participants recorded their alcohol intake and AFib symptoms.

Abstinence from alcohol reduced arrhythmia recurrences in regular drinkers with atrial fibrillation.

Source: Alcohol Abstinence in Drinkers with Atrial Fibrillation

Participants who abstained from alcohol were less likely to experience AFib episodes and less likely to be admitted to the hospital for an AFib-related issue. Also, the abstinence group had a longer period before recurrence of AFib than those who drank normally.

Why is this important?

These studies tell us that alcohol is associated with an increased risk of AFib and that reducing alcohol intake can be beneficial for individuals who already have a diagnosis.

evidence of progressive increases in overall burden, incidence, prevalence, and AF-associated mortality between 1990 and 2010

Source: Worldwide Epidemiology of Atrial Fibrillation

Significantly more men and women are being diagnosed with AFib today than 30 years ago. Not only are the number of cases increasing, but so are deaths. It is important to understand the risk factors of AFib to prevent and treat the growing burden on the world’s population.

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