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Does Alcohol Cause AFib?

A glass of wine with dinner is good for your heart, right? Many studies suggest that light or moderate drinking can cut your risk of heart disease and stroke.

But drinking certain kinds of alcohol every day can raise your chances of getting atrial fibrillation (AFib), a heart condition that makes your heart beat really fast and off-rhythm. AFib can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart conditions.

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Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Myths and Facts

Atrial fibrillation, also known as AFib, happens when your normal heartbeat or rhythm is thrown off. Yes, it can be dangerous. Your heart may not be able to pump enough blood. On the other hand, millions of people with long-lasting AFib live quite well, says Gordon F. Tomaselli, MD, chief of the division of cardiology at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine. "It's very possible to live a normal life for many years." So let's clear up those ideas that may be limiting you when they don't...

Read the Atrial Fibrillation (AFib) Myths and Facts article > >

So it's important to weigh the risks. Talk to your doctor about your health history and what makes the most sense for you.

More Alcohol Means More Risk

A recent study found a strong link between drinking one to three drinks a day (what doctors consider moderate) and getting AFib. Oddly enough, that was true for people who drink wine and liquor, but not beer.

Heavy drinking, or more than three drinks a day, bumps up your risk. And it seems to keep going up the more you have. Studies suggest that for every extra daily drink, your risk goes up by 8%.

You don't have to drink regularly, either. Binge drinking, or having more than five drinks in a row, also makes getting AFib more likely. People in these studies drank wine or hard liquor. It's not clear if beer has the same effect.

How Much Is Safe?

After you've been diagnosed, it's OK to have an adult beverage, as long as you don't drink too much. Keep in mind that different drinks have different levels of alcohol. A single shot of hard liquor may have the same amount of alcohol as two glasses of wine.

One to three drinks a day probably won't lead to health problems, even when you already have AFib. More than three drinks a day, though, can trigger an episode.

If you're taking blood thinners, alcohol can raise your risk of bleeding. It can also be a problem if you take drugs that reduce blood clotting, like warfarin or acenocoumarol.

Don't Drink Every Day

Even if you drink moderately, experts suggest you take a few days off from drinking alcohol every week.

  • Limit yourself to one to two drinks a day.
  • Try to have 2 to 3 alcohol-free days every week.
  • Stop drinking if you have an episode of AFib within an hour of drinking alcohol.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by James Beckerman, MD, FACC on October 03, 2014

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