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Moderate Alcohol Consumption can Increase Risk of Irregular Heartbeat

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Highlights
  • Moderate consumption of alcohol on a regular basis can increase the risk of irregular heartbeat.
  • Alcohol has many effects on the human body that contribute to irregular heartbeat.

Moderate Alcohol Consumption can Increase Risk of Irregular Heartbeat

People who consume high amounts of alcohol experience an irregular heartbeat, which is also known as atrial fibrillation or "holiday heart syndrome." But, even people who drink smaller amounts of alcohol on a regular basis are at higher risk of irregular heartbeat, finds a new study.

Link Between Alcohol Consumption and Irregular Heartbeat
Irregular heartbeat is a leading cause of stroke, heart failure and other heart-related complications. Moderate consumption of alcohol is up to seven standard drinks per week for women and 14 standard drinks per week for men. Many studies have shown that moderate consumption of alcohol can benefit people by reducing the risk of heart disease, specifically coronary artery disease. But the review study found that even moderate consumption of alcohol can cause an irregular heartbeat.

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"There has been a lot of attention in recent years about the benefits of drinking small amounts of alcohol for the heart," said the study's lead author, Professor Peter Kistler, M.B.B.S., Ph.D., of Baker IDI Heart and Diabetes Institute and the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Australia. "The results are significant, since chances are, there are people who are consuming one to two glasses of alcohol per day that may not realize they are putting themselves at risk for irregular heartbeat."

Effects of Alcohol
The review involved nearly 900,000 people. The 12-year analysis found an 8 percent increase in the risk of atrial fibrillation for every alcoholic drink consumed per day. The risk was same in both men and women.
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"While moderate amounts of alcohol appear protective for the 'plumbing' or blood supply to the heart muscle, the benefits of alcohol do not extend to the electrical parts of the heart or heartbeat," said Kistler.

Effect of Alcohol on the Cells
Alcohol consumption can damage the cells, leading to fibrous tissue within the heart, which causes irregular heartbeat. People who continue to drink are more likely to have irregular heartbeat even after catheter ablation - treatment for irregular heartbeat where parts of the heart are cauterized.

Electrophysical Effects
The heart cells contract in a coordinated way by movement of electrical signals between cells. Regular consumption of alcohol may change these electrical signals, triggering irregular heartbeat.

Effect on the Autonomic Nervous System
The autonomic nervous system controls bodily functions such as heart rate, digestion and respiratory rate. The review found that alcohol stimulates this internal nervous system leading to irregular heartbeat.

"People who continue to consume alcohol at moderate rates may also notice their irregular heartbeats become more frequent. This is concerning, because it can lead to serious issues, such as heart failure and stroke," said Kistler.

"So, even though we do not have randomized data that tells us what a 'safe' amount is to consume, people with an irregular heartbeat should probably drink no more than one alcoholic drink per day with two alcohol-free days a week."

The authors concluded that more research is needed to determine the specific cause responsible for the relationship between alcohol and irregular heartbeat.

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

Source: Medindia

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