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Alcohol May Raise Risk of Irregular Heartbeat

Study: Moderate to Heavy Drinking May Lead to Atrial Fibrillation

WebMD Health News

Oct. 11, 2004 -- Drinking alcohol on a regular basis may slightly raise men's risk of developing a type of irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter, according to a large new Danish study.

Atrial fibrillation is the most common form of irregular heartbeat. The condition causes the heart to pump blood less efficiently, allowing blood to pool within its chambers and increasing the risk of heart attack, stroke, and heart failure.

Researchers found men who drank moderate or heavy amounts of alcohol were about 40% more likely to develop atrial fibrillation compared with those who drank the least.

However, researchers say their findings conflict with some previous studies on the relationship between alcohol use and atrial fibrillation. Several studies have found no association between alcohol use and the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, but others have suggested that moderate drinking alcohol reduces this risk.

Alcohol May Alter Heartbeat

In the study, researchers followed nearly 50,000 middle-aged adults who participated in the Danish Diet, Cancer, and Health study from 1993 to 1997.

The participants answered questions about how much and what type of alcohol they drank, such as wine, beer, or spirits.

Researchers found men drank an average of about two to three drinks per day (28 grams of alcohol) and women drank an average of about one drink per day (14 grams of alcohol). A typical drink, such as a 12-ounce bottle of beer, a 5-ounce glass of wine, or a 1.5-ounce shot of 80-proof spirits, has between 11 grams and 14 grams of alcohol.

During about five years of follow-up, 556 of the participants developed atrial fibrillation. The study showed that the risk of atrial fibrillation rose slightly as the amount of alcohol drunk increased among men but not among women.

Compared with men who drank the least amount of alcohol, men who drank more than two drinks per day had a 24%-46% increased risk of developing atrial fibrillation.

In women, moderate drinking (no more than one drink per day) did not appear to significantly increase the risk of atrial fibrillation.

The results appear in the Oct. 11 issue of the Archives of Internal Medicine.

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