Does Alcohol Cause AFib?

A glass of wine with dinner is good for your heart, right? Although past studies have shown some heart benefits of moderate drinking, research hasn't shown a definitive link between alcohol and better heart health. 

Drinking alcohol every day, in fact, can raise your chances of getting atrial fibrillation (AFib), a condition that makes your heart beat really fast and out of rhythm. AFib can lead to blood clots, strokes, heart failure, and other heart conditions.

How does alcohol increase your heart rate? Doctors believe booze disrupts your heart’s natural pacemaker -- the electrical signals that are supposed to keep it beating at the right pace.

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.

Heavy drinking, or more than three drinks a day, bumps up your risk even more. 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?

You should avoid drinking alcohol if you have an abnormal heart rhythm. One study, performed in Australia, found that AFib patients who did not drink during a 6-month period had fewer AFib episodes.

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 acenocoumarol or warfarin.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on June 13, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

American Heart Association: "What is Atrial Fibrillation?"

Larsson, S. Journal of the American College of Cardiology, July 2014.

European Heart Rhythm Association/AFib Matters: "Living With Atrial Fibrillation."

StopAFib.org: "What Causes Atrial Fibrillation?"

NHS Choices: "Alcohol Unit Calculator."

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism: “Beyond Hangovers: Understanding alcohol’s impact on your health.”

Voskoboinik, A. N Engl J Med., Jan. 2020.

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