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 depending on how much you have, drinking alcohol every day 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?

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 two 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 acenocoumarol or warfarin.

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.
  • Talk to your doctor if you have an episode of AFib within an hour of drinking alcohol.
WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Nayana Ambardekar, MD on May 09, 2018



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." "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.”

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