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Alcohol Abuse Increases the Risk of Heart Diseases

Alcohol Abuse Increases the Risk of Heart Diseases

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  • Alcohol consumption increases the risk of heart conditions such as atrial fibrillation, heart attack and congestive heart failure.
  • The risk might be greater even in the absence of other confounding factors like high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.
  • These findings oppose the previous studies which suggest that moderate levels of alcohol consumption may offer protection against heart attack and congestive heart failure.

Alcohol abuse increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack and congestive heart failure as much as other risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking and obesity.

Despite advances in prevention and treatments, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the US.


Alcohol Abuse Increases the Risk of Heart Diseases

"We found that even if you have no underlying risk factors, abuse of alcohol still increases the risk of these heart conditions," said lead researcher Gregory M. Marcus, MD, Director of clinical research in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco.

Heart Disease

Annually, more than 610,000 Americans die of heart disease which complies to one in every four deaths in the country.

Heart disease refers to several types of heart conditions. The most common type of heart disease in the United States is coronary artery disease, which affects the blood flow to the heart. Decreased blood flow can cause a heart attack.

Other kinds of heart diseases may involve the valves in the heart, or the heart may not pump well and cause heart failure. Some people are born with heart conditions known as congenital heart diseases.

Heart Attack

A heart attack is also called a myocardial infarction. It occurs when a part of the heart muscle does not receive enough blood flow. The damage in the muscle becomes greater without proper treatment to restore blood flow. Every year, heart attack affects 735,000 Americans and every 43 seconds, someone in the United States has a heart attack. In 2015, more than 500,000 Americans experienced a first-time myocardial infarction.

Atrial Fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, often called AFib or AF, is the most common type of heart arrhythmia affecting 2.7-6.1 million people in the United States. Arrhythmia means irregularity in heart rates where the heart beats too slow or too fast.

When a person has AFib, the normal beating in the upper chambers or atria of the heart becomes irregular and it affects the pumping of blood from the atria to the lower chambers or ventricles of the heart.

Congestive Heart Failure

Congestive heart failure (CHF) is a condition in which the heart fails to work adequately as a pump that can deliver oxygen rich blood to support organs in the body. About half of people who develop heart failure die within 5 years of diagnosis.

Congestive heart failure can be caused by:
  • Diseases in which the heart muscle weakens
  • Diseases in which the heart muscles stiffens
  • Conditions where oxygen demand by the body tissue is beyond the capacity of the heart

Drawbacks of Previous Studies

Previous studies have indicated that moderate levels of alcohol consumption may offer protection against heart attack and congestive heart failure.

The recent findings indicate that even low to moderate levels of alcohol consumption can increase the incidence of atrial fibrillation.

Many of the previous studies relied on patients who self-reported alcohol abuse. Marcus said, "that is an unreliable measure, especially in those who drink heavily."

In an editorial accompanying the new study, Michael H. Criqui, MD, MPH, of the University of California San Diego, wrote that previous studies that found a benefit from alcohol consumption in protecting against heart attack and congestive heart failure were cohort studies.

Such studies that include defined population, tend to recruit stable, cooperative and health-conscious participants who are more likely to be oriented toward a healthier lifestyle.

"Cohort studies have minimal participation by true alcohol abusers, so the current study likely presents a more valid picture of heavy drinking outcomes," Criqui said.

Current Study-Analysis

The researchers analyzed data of 14.7 million patients aged 21 and older, from a database of all California residents, who received ambulatory surgery, emergency or inpatient medical care in California between 2005 and 2009.

Among the patients in the database, 1.8%, or approximately 268,000, had been diagnosed with alcohol abuse.

The researchers found that after taking into account other risk factors, alcohol abuse was associated with:
  • Two-fold increased risk of atrial fibrillation
  • 1.4-fold increased risk of heart attack
  • 2.3-fold increased risk of congestive heart failure
These increased risks were similar in magnitude to other risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.

In the United States alone, complete eradication of alcohol abuse would result in:
  • 73,000 fewer atrial fibrillation cases
  • 34,000 fewer heart attacks
  • 91,000 fewer patients with congestive heart failure
"We were somewhat surprised to find those diagnosed with some form of alcohol abuse were at significantly higher risk of a heart attack," Marcus said. "We hope this data will temper the enthusiasm for drinking in excess and will avoid any justification for excessive drinking because people think it will be good for their heart. These data pretty clearly prove the opposite."


The current study has more validity as data was extracted from reliable source like the medical records of patients in which the alcohol abuse was documented.

But it does not quantify how much alcohol patients drank.

Reducing alcohol abuse might result in meaningful reductions of heart disease, researchers concluded.

The study is published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.

References :
  1. Gregory M. Marcus et al. Alcohol Abuse and Cardiac Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology; (2016) DOI: 10.1016/j.jacc.2016.10.048
  2. Heart Disease Facts - (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/facts.htm)
  3. Heart Disease Fact Sheet - (https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_disease.htm)
  4. Heart Attack - (https://www.cdc.gov/heartdisease/heart_attack.htm)
  5. Atrial Fibrillation Fact Sheet - (https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_atrial_fibrillation.htm)
  6. Heart Failure Fact Sheet - (https://www.cdc.gov/dhdsp/data_statistics/fact_sheets/fs_heart_failure.htm)
Source: Medindia

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