AF, which is believed to affect more than a million people in Britain, is one of the most common heart arrhythmia seen clinically. It is caused by a disturbances in the rhythm of the heart, which can lead to loss of co-ordination between the upper and lower chambers of the vital organ. The condition is linked to a number of ailments, but it is stroke which most concerns doctors. Until now, efforts to understand the condition have focused largely on risk factors for developing the disease. Now, a new study has determined that as little as one glass of alcohol could increase risk of the condition within hours.
Gregory Marcus, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCSF, said: “Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk.
“Our results show that the occurrence of atrial fibrillation might be neither random nor unpredictable.
“Instead there may be identifiable and modifiable ways of preventing an acute heart arrhythmia episode.”
The study looked at 100 patients with history of atrial fibrillation, who consumed one drink a month.
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The subjects wore an electrocardiogram for monitoring over the course of four weeks, pressing a button whenever they had a standardised alcoholic drink.
Findings revealed that an AF episode was associated with a two-fold higher odds after consumption of one alcohol drink, and a three-fold higher risk with two or more drinks within the preceding hour.
Professor Marcus added: “The effects seem to be failure linear: the more alcohol consumed, the higher the risk of an acute AF event.
“These observations mirror what has been reported by patients for decades, but this is the first objective, measurable evidence that a modifiable exposure may acutely influence the chance that an AF episode will occur.”
Researchers had previously determined that the lifetime risk of developing AF ranged from 23 percent to 38 percent depending on one’s health, including how much alcohol they drink.
Professor Renate Schnabel, consultant cardiologist from the University Heart and Vascular Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf, said earlier this year: “The take-home message is that in contrast to other cardiovascular diseases, even low and moderate alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation.
“Many people have palpitations and dizziness, but one of the bad things about atrial fibrillation is that it’s asymptomatic and can lead to other problems such as stroke.
“In many people, a stroke is the first manifestations of the disease.”
Researchers said the findings suggests that abstinence could help mitigate harmful effects and preventing the condition.
The condition is the most common heart rhythm disturbance in the nation, believed to affect up to 800,000 people in the UK.
Although the causes of the condition remain poorly understood, research has highlighted that the condition is more likely to occur in older people.
Latest estimates released by the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE), suggested that 425,000 people have AF but don’t yet know it matter.
The health body estimates that AF is responsible for one in five strokes in the UK, and clot prevention is one key part of managing the condition in people deemed to be at significant risk.
NICE published guidance earlier this year outlining some of the most important risk factors for the condition:
Stress: Intermittent busts of AF can be triggered by anything that affects the heart’s electrical activity such as stress, excessive caffeine, nicotine, alcohol and some types of medication.
High blood pressure: AF is more common in people with high blood pressure and underlying heart disease as well as the oases and those with type 1 and type 2 diabetes.
Underlying conditions: Thyroid and electrolyte disturbances, infections and some types of cancer can also trigger AF.