Alcohol Consumption Potentially Linked to Atrial Fibrillation

Alcohol consumption may cause heart damage that leads to atrial fibrillation.

A recent study found that moderate alcohol consumption may negatively affect the heart, and could potentially change the structure of the heart to promote atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation can increase stroke risk, since irregular pumping of blood can lead to clotting that can travel to the brain.

“There's growing evidence that moderate alcohol intake may be a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, the most common heart rhythm disturbance in the world, but the mechanism by which alcohol may lead to atrial fibrillation is unknown,” said senior author of the study Gregory Marcus, MD.

In a study published by the Journal of the American Heart Association, scientists examined left atrium damage as a pathway between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation. They analyzed echocardiograms, medical history, and self-reported alcohol intake from more than 5000 adults participating in the Framingham Heart Study.

Participants were typically Caucasian, 40- to 60-years old. The patients typically reported 1 or more drinks per day. Scientists found that the rate of atrial fibrillation was 8.4 cases per 1000 patients per year, meaning that 8 out of 100 patients would develop atrial fibrillation during a 10-year period.

They also found that 1 additional drink per day increased the risk of developing atrial fibrillation by 5%. An additional drink was also associated with a 0.16 millimeter enlargement of the left atrium, according to the study.

These findings suggest that heart damage may result from alcohol consumption. Other research has found that moderate drinking can reduce the risk of heart attack, but increase the risk of atrial fibrillation.

The scientists previously found that patients living in towns that permit alcohol sales were more likely to have atrial fibrillation, but less likely to have heart attacks and congestive heart failure compared with patients living in towns that did not permit alcohol sales.

Additionally, it has been shown that alcohol consumption and cancer risk have a dose-response relationship. Oropharynx, larynx, esophagus, liver, colon, rectum, and breast cancer risks are all increased with alcohol consumption.

However, scientists in the current study said that alcohol’s protective and harmful abilities likely are due to different mechanisms, and vary for each person. Additional research will be conducted to decipher these mechanisms to improve personalized treatments, according to the study.

“I'm constantly trying to remind people that there are various forms of heart disease and not all are related to heart attack," said Dr Marcus. “Atrial fibrillation is growing in importance as our success in preventing heart attack grows.”