MONDAY, Jan. 17 (HealthDay News) -- People who drink a lot, and
do so often, increase their chances of developing the chronic heart
rate or rhythm disorder called atrial fibrillation, according to
A common arrhythmia, atrial fibrillation carries a serious risk
for stroke. Although drinking has previously been linked to atrial
fibrillation, the researchers say their new study shows that
habitual drinking as well as episodic drinking can significantly
increase the risk for the condition.
"Don't put much confidence in moderate drinking," said Dr. Satoru Kodama, from the internal medicine department at the University of Tsukuba Institute of Clinical Medicine and the study's lead researcher.
"Chronic high drinking is significantly associated with risk of [atrial fibrillation], and the AF risk is related in a dose-response fashion to daily alcohol drinking," he said.
For the study, published online Jan. 18 in the
Journal of the American College of Cardiology, Kodama and colleagues analyzed 14 studies from around the world, in a process called a meta-analysis. The studies involved 130,820 people, including 7,558 who had atrial fibrillation.
The researchers calculated the risk for the disorder for those
who drank the most -- at least two drinks a day for men and at
least one for women, plus the daily drinks consumed by alcohol
abusers and alcoholics -- and compared those figures with the risk
for those who drank the least. Two drinks a day for men and one for
women is often considered moderate drinking, and other studies have
shown that amount holds benefits for heart health.
But the Japanese researchers found that moderate drinkers may
have a greater risk of atrial fibrillation than nondrinkers,
although the risk is not as large as that for heavy drinkers. Those
who drank the most had a significantly increased risk for atrial
fibrillation, compared with those who drank the least. Moreover,
the risk was proportionate to the amount of drinking: The more one
drank, the greater the risk.
The researchers noted that their study was limited in several
ways; they had to estimate the amount of ethanol consumed when the
types of drinks were unknown; the definition of heavy drinking
varied across studies; and the results may have been skewed by
unknown variables such as high blood pressure, which was tracked in
some studies but not in others. They added that the association
between atrial fibrillation and high alcohol intake, for example,
was weaker in studies that factored in hypertension.
Commenting on the study, Dr. Gregg Fonarow, American Heart
Association spokesman and a cardiology professor at the University
of California, Los Angeles, said that "it is well established that
binge drinking of alcohol is associated with atrial fibrillation;
this is commonly referred to as 'holiday heart.'" A number of other
studies also have suggested that moderate or heavy daily drinking
is associated with an increased risk for atrial fibrillation, he
The new study, Fonarow said, found that the relationship between
daily alcohol consumption and the risk for atrial fibrillation
"appears to be linear, with the greater the amount of alcohol
consumed, the greater the AF risk, with the lowest risk of atrial
fibrillation being observed in those who do not consume
Alcohol can have both direct and indirect effects on the heart,
which can increase the susceptibility to atrial fibrillation, he
said. "These include changes in the autonomic nervous system,
changes in blood pressure, changes in the heart and direct effects
on heart muscle cells," Fonarow said.
The American Heart Association has more on
living with atrial fibrillation.
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