Even in moderation, alcohol may be hard on your heart. Some research suggests that having as little as one to three alcoholic drinks each day may increase your risk for atrial fibrillation (Afib).
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The most common abnormal heart rhythm, Afib causes symptoms including lack of energy, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pain.
The findings are worth noting for people with Afib as well as those without the condition, says cardiologist Bruce Wilkoff, MD. Dr. Wilkoff did not take part in the study.
“What’s different about this study is that more modest amounts of alcohol intake seem to also correlate with developing atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Wilkoff says.
Wine and liquor are main culprits
Researchers of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden studied more than 79,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 83. They followed them for 12 years and looked closely at the effects of different types of alcohol – liquor, wine and beer.
They found an increased risk for atrial fibrillation with moderately drinking wine and liquor. They did not find such a relationship with drinking beer.
The study defined moderate drinking as one to three alcoholic drinks each day. What if you drink less? The researchers said spreading out alcohol consumption over the course of a week might mean less severe heart rhythm effects. The study also found that your risk of developing Afib increases with drinking more wine and liquor.
At the starting point, study participants were free from atrial fibrillation. Each completed a questionnaire about how much they drink, what types of beverages they consume and other risk factors for chronic diseases.
Moderation is key
Dr. Wilkoff says more studies are needed. But, he notes, these findings mostly affect people who have already been diagnosed with Afib.
“Alcohol in moderation—meaning not every day and in small amounts – is probably okay,” he says. “But if you notice Afib symptoms, stop. Not drinking may potentially stop the Afib and prevent any long-term damage.”
Read the complete findings for the study “Alcohol and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation” in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
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