Science

Irregular heart rhythm can be triggered within four hours of consuming alcohol, study suggests

Heart risk from just ONE drink: Irregular rhythm can be triggered within four hours of consuming alcohol, study suggests

  • Atrial fibrillation can be triggered by drinking just a small amount, research shows
  • Around 1.4million people in the UK have the condition that causes an irregular heartbeat
  • Experts say avoiding alcohol should reduce vulnerable patients’ risk of falling ill


Just one alcoholic drink could be enough to raise the risk of suffering an irregular heartbeat.

Around 1.4million people in the UK have a particular type of irregular heartbeat, which has the medical name atrial fibrillation.

It is known that the condition can be triggered by too much alcohol, with many people suffering ‘holiday heart syndrome’ after over-indulging during Christmas or the summer holidays. 

But now a study suggests just a small amount of alcohol can bring on an episode.

Drinking alcohol could raise the risk of an irregular heartbeat, study suggests

Researchers recruited 100 people with intermittent atrial fibrillation, where episodes come and go usually within 48 hours.

Tracking them for four weeks on average, they found people struck by an irregular heartbeat were twice as likely to have had an alcoholic drink in the past four hours.

Episodes of irregular heartbeat were 38 per cent more likely for every 0.1 per cent in blood alcohol concentration.

During the study period, 56 people had episodes of atrial fibrillation and more than 80 per cent of these were men.

People having an irregular heartbeat episode were around 3.5 times more likely to have had two alcoholic drinks in the past four hours, compared with those whose heartbeat was normal.

Dr Gregory Marcus, lead author from the University of California, San Francisco, said: ‘Drinking alcohol is associated with an increased chance that atrial fibrillation will occur in a matter of hours. Avoiding alcohol, or cutting down on it, should reduce people’s risk from the condition.’

Episodes of atrial fibrillation are best avoided because it can leave people short of breath, dizzy and exhausted, while pooling of blood in the heart risks forming clots which can lead to strokes.

Researchers found that people having an irregular heartbeat episode were around 3.5 times more likely to have had two alcoholic drinks in the past four hours (stock image)

Researchers found that people having an irregular heartbeat episode were around 3.5 times more likely to have had two alcoholic drinks in the past four hours (stock image)

People with the condition in the study wore an ECG monitor – which tracks the heart’s rhythm and electrical activity – to record the time and length of each episode they suffered.

Participants were then asked to press a button every time they had a standard drink like a glass of wine, a bottle of beer or a single shot of spirits.

At the same time an ankle monitor recorded their alcohol consumption and they had finger-prick blood tests to calculate how much they had consumed in the past two weeks.

The study found the more people drank, the greater their risk of having an episode of irregular heartbeat.

Alcohol may speed up the time it takes for the upper chambers of the heart to recover from the electrical activation of the heart pumping, so that it moves on to the next heartbeat too quickly or erratically. 

The researchers, writing in the journal Annals of Internal Medicine, state: ‘Contrary to a common belief that heavy alcohol consumption is required to influence atrial fibrillation, it seems that even one alcoholic drink may be enough to increase the risk for a discrete atrial fibrillation event.’

The study does not suggest alcohol can trigger atrial fibrillation in people who do not have it already, but previous evidence has suggested that may be the case.

Why walnuts work wonders

A daily handful of walnuts can lower ‘bad’ cholesterol and may cut the risk of heart attacks and strokes, a study suggests.

It is thought the nuts reduce build-up of fatty deposits in arteries. The Hospital Clinic of Barcelona analysed 628 adults, half of whom ate a small handful of walnuts a day for two years. The others ate none. 

Two years on, LDL cholesterol levels among the nut eaters fell by 4.3mg/dL. The other group was unchanged. 

Study co-author Dr Emilio Ros said the fall was not ‘tremendous’ but could be a benefit. 

The study, funded by the walnut industry, was published in respected academic journal Circulation.

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