Heavy liquor drinking may trigger a dangerous heart condition that can trip off a stroke or heart failure - but reducing alcohol consumption even a little bit makes a big difference, say British scientists.
Raising a glass too often could put the drinkers at risk for atrial fibrillation, a dangerous heart condition that can cause a stroke or heart failure, said Joe Martins, a doctor and lead author of the study and a cardiologist at the Imperial College, London.
However, drinking in moderation is safe and does not significantly increase the chances of developing atrial fibrillation (AF), Martins said.
"Atrial fibrillation is the most common irregular heart rhythm. AF is becoming an increasing public health burden," Martins said. "It is associated with a five-fold increased risk of stroke, a three-fold risk of heart failure and up to a two-fold increase risk of death."
For this study, all patients arriving at an arrhythmia clinic at Charing Cross Hospital in London with symptoms of a new cardiac arrhythmia were asked about their weekly alcohol consumption, reported health portal Health Central.
Participants were grouped according to how much they drank: teetotaller (those who abstained completely), moderate drinkers (one to 14 units per week for females and one to 21 units per week for males) and excessive (anything greater than moderate). In the study, two units were about equal to one pint of beer.
Those with confirmed atrial fibrillation were then compared to those without the irregular heartbeat - about half (48 percent) of people in each group were moderate drinkers, suggesting no increase in risk.
Excessive drinking, however, was much higher in patients with atrial fibrillation than in patients without (27 percent versus 17 percent, respectively).
In fact, these heavy drinkers raised their risk of atrial fibrillation by two percent for each additional unit they drank compared to non-drinkers. However, the researchers said cutting down on drinking could lower the risk.