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Alcohol Consumption Indicated as Atrial Fibrillation Cause

Researchers at University of California in San Francisco have found evidence showing a causal link between alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia or rapid heart beat. The results of the team led by medical professor Gregory Marcus were published online and will appear in the 1 August 2012 issue of the American Journal of Cardiology (paid subscription required).

The study, conducted from September 2004 to March 2011, included interviews of 223 patients with documented cases of two types of arrhythmia: atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT). Among the questions, the UCSF researchers asked the patients if alcohol triggered their heart palpitations, with the patients answering on a five-point scale representing never, rarely, sometimes, frequently, and always.

The survey found 133 of the 223 patients with intermittent atrial fibrillation, while 90 patients had SVT without atrial fibrillation. The patients’ claims of atrial fibrillation were verified by surface electrocardiograms and invasive studies. The analysis tallied respondents in the survey who “always” or “frequently” experienced irregular heart palpitations when drinking.

After adjusting for potential confounding variables, patients with intermittent atrial fibrillation were nearly 4.5 times more likely to report alcohol consumption as a trigger for arrhythmia, compared to the SVT group. Marcus says the results did not show any clear associations between age and race as a trigger, which he says could be due to the relatively small numbers in the sample; the average age was 59 and 80 percent of the group were Caucasian.

Marcus notes there is a continuing debate over the impact of alcohol consumption on heart disease. “There may be some beneficial effects to alcohol, says Marcus, “but it’s important to look at actual heart outcomes, like stroke and death.” He adds that there’s insufficient information at this time to recommend lifestyle changes related to alcohol and heart disease risk. Nonetheless, Marcus points out that this and previous reports indicate alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy, or heart muscle disorders, and worsen hypertension.

In the following video, Marcus tells more about this research.

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