New Australian research found that regular moderate alcohol consumption could increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), also known as a heart flutter. (Bloomberg/File)
New Australian research has found that regular moderate alcohol consumption -- which is an average of 14 glasses a week or two per day -- could increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (AF), also known as a heart flutter.
Carried out by researchers at the University of Melbourne and Royal Melbourne Hospital and Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, the new study enrolled 75 patients with AF to undergo detailed invasive testing on the atria, the two upper chambers of the heart.
The patients were split into three categories, with 25 defined as lifelong non-drinkers, 25 as mild drinkers, consuming two to seven standard drinks per week, and 25 as moderate drinkers, consuming eight to 21 drinks per week and an average of 14 drinks per week.
One standard glass is around 12 grams of alcohol.
The findings, published in the journal HeartRhythm, showed that those who consumed moderate amounts of alcohol, had more electrical evidence of scarring and impairments in electrical signaling than non-drinkers and light drinkers.
Excessive alcohol consumption is already an established risk factor for AF, however previous observational studies have also found that even moderate regular alcohol consumption may increase the risk of the condition.
The researchers note that a meta-analysis of seven studies with nearly 860,000 patients and approximately 12,500 individuals with AF showed that each additional daily standard drink resulted in an eight percent increase in incident AF.
AF is the most common heart rhythm disorder. The likelihood of developing the condition increases with age, with AF affecting around 7 in 100 people aged 65 or over. Symptoms include chest pain, 'racing' or unusual heartbeat palpitations, weakness, fatigue, lightheadedness, dizziness, and shortness of breath.
The condition also causes 20 to 30 percent of all strokes and increases the risk of other conditions such as dementia, heart attack and kidney disease, and premature death, therefore the finding that alcohol consumption is an avoidable risk factor could help people make a simple lifestyle change to help reduce the risk of developing AF and other cardiovascular conditions.
"This study underscores the importance of excessive alcohol consumption as an important risk factor in AF," said lead investigator Professor Peter Kistler. "Regular moderate alcohol consumption, but not mild consumption, is an important modifiable risk factor for AF associated with lower atrial voltage and conduction slowing. These electrical and structural changes may explain the propensity to AF in regular drinkers. It is an important reminder for clinicians who are caring for patients with AF to ask about alcohol consumption and provide appropriate counselling in those who over-indulge."