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The effect of alcohol on the heart

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According to a new study, drinking alcohol with a glass of beer or a glass of wine can rapidly increase the risk of a common type of cardiac arrhythmia known as atrial fibrillation.

Doctors have long suspected a link between alcohol and atrial fibrillation, but so far there has been no clear evidence that alcohol can cause arrhythmias. The new research is one of the most rigorous to date. The researchers recruited 100 people with a history of atrial fibrillation and focused on them over a four-week period to monitor alcohol intake and heart rhythm in real time.

Scientists have found that drinking alcohol increases the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation and arrhythmias within hours. And the more they drink, the more likely they are to have an arrhythmia. The new study was published in the Annals of Internal Medicine on August 30th. The conclusions, along with data from previous studies, suggest that people with a history of atrial fibrillation can reduce their chances of developing arrhythmias by reducing or avoiding alcohol altogether. ..

The authors speculated that the findings could have broad implications for healthy adults as well. Although moderate drinking is widely believed to be beneficial to heart health, new research suggests that at least some people can disrupt heart function. “This shows that whenever we consume alcohol, it probably has an almost immediate effect on the electrical work of our heart,” said the author of the study, University. Said Dr. Gregory Marcus, a professor of medicine in the Department of Cardiology. University of California, San Francisco.

Atrial fibrillation, also known as A-fib, is the most common dysrhythmia that affects an estimated 3 million adults in the United States. This happens when the atrium, the upper atria of the heart, begins to beat irregularly. This can block blood flow to the lower ventricles of the heart, called the ventricles. Over time, it can cause complications such as heart failure and stroke. Atrial fibrillation may be persistent, or it may be sporadic with symptoms such as palpitation, shortness of breath, and malaise that last for minutes or hours at a time. When episodes occur occasionally, the condition is known as paroxysmal atrial fibrillation.

People are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation as they get older. It is also more likely to occur in people with risk factors such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, European ancestry, and a family history of arrhythmias. About 40 years ago, doctors began recording cases of people who experienced arrhythmias after heavy drinking on weekends and holidays. This is a phenomenon that has become known as Holiday Heart Syndrome. Since then, many large observational studies have shown that people who regularly consume even one drink a day are more likely to develop atrial fibrillation than those who abstain.

Many of these previous studies had important weaknesses. In most cases, they relied on people who self-reported their alcohol intake, but this is not always reliable. Studies have shown that, for example, people tend to underestimate the amount they drink. Another limitation is that a person asked to remember an episode of atrial fibrillation can be mistakenly identified by a variety of behaviors as a trigger. However, the new study is designed to circumvent these restrictions. Dr. Marcus and his colleagues recruited 100 people with a history of paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, most of whom were male and wore an electrocardiogram monitor that tracks the rhythm of the heart 24 hours a day.

The device contained a button that participants were instructed to press each time they drank an alcoholic beverage. Researchers have also used other objective means to track alcohol intake. They installed participants with a special ankle monitor that could detect their blood alcohol levels. Regular fingertip blood tests were also performed to measure participants’ phosphatidylethanol (PEth) levels. This is a biomarker that indicates a person’s recent alcohol consumption.

During the four weeks of follow-up, researchers found that at least 56 participants experienced episodes of atrial fibrillation. The data showed that alcohol often triggers arrhythmias. Drinking one cup doubles the chance of developing atrial fibrillation in the next four hours, and drinking two or more cups triples the chance of an event. The higher the alcohol level in a person’s blood, the more likely it is to have an arrhythmia.

Marian R Piano, a researcher who published many studies on alcohol and cardiovascular health and was not involved in the new study, said the findings are important in understanding how alcohol affects the heart. I said it was a good step. She said healthcare providers should discuss with patients, especially those with atrial fibrillation, how much alcohol they consume and whether it is wise to reduce or avoid it.

“Atrial fibrillation is a potentially life-changing arrhythmia, such as a stroke, so understanding what can trigger an acute is very important to tell the patient.” Said Dr. Piano, a professor and vice dean of research. At Vanderbilt University School of Nursing. “Drinking is something we can monitor and change individually. It’s something we can easily keep in mind.”

Dr. Piano said he would like to do more research on diverse groups of people. Participants in the new study were mostly white, of whom only 22 were women. “Sure, we need a woman with a larger sample size,” she said.

However, she called the study rigorously, adding that the findings were timely due to the rapidly rising prevalence of atrial fibrillation. By 2030, an estimated 12.1 million people in the United States will develop atrial fibrillation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Dr. Piano said he needed to help healthcare providers understand what alcohol-consuming patients would engage in. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines it as “low-risk drinking.” For women, it means drinking no more than 3 cups a day and up to 7 cups a week. For men, low-risk drinking means drinking up to 14 drinks a week and up to 4 drinks a day.

The federal government defines a standard drink as 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirited liquor (40% alcohol).

Dr. Marcus of the University of California, San Francisco, said the findings could potentially empower people with atrial fibrillation, suggesting that there are ways to control important triggers for arrhythmias. “This shows that these atrial fibrillation events are not just accidental, but that there are modifiable factors that can be used to reduce the likelihood of the event occurring,” he said.

Of course, this does not mean that everyone who drinks will continue to have heart problems. However, for people without a history of atrial fibrillation, he said, the findings should serve as a reminder of excessive drinking, as alcohol can interfere with the electrical properties of the heart. “Despite the traditional knowledge that alcohol is healthy for the heart, these data add to others that too much alcohol is almost certainly harmful to the heart,” he says. I did.

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