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Apr 10, 2019

Research Backs up Recommendations to Avoid Alcohol with AFib

Study confirms cutting out alcohol reduces abnormal heart rhythm in moderate drinkers.

Avoiding alcohol should continue to be recommended to patients with an abnormal heart rhythm, based on a recent study that confirmed the link between alcohol and recurrence of atrial fibrillation (AFib). Findings were presented at the American College of Cardiology’s 68th Annual Scientific Session and back up recommendations that patients with AFib limit alcohol consumption.

AFib is the most common type of irregular heart rhythm that affects as many as six million U.S. adults. It occurs when the heart beats too fast, too slow or irregularly and increases risk for stroke and other serious complications.

We know that drinking too much alcohol can increase risk for developing AFib and worsen symptoms. But based on the latest findings, cutting back on drinking could have a big impact on outcomes for patients with AFib.

Conducted at six hospitals in Australia, this study looked at the impact of drinking on episodes of AFib. It included 140 AFib patients who consumed at least 10 drinks a week and had ongoing episodes of AFib. Participants were randomly assigned to stop drinking alcohol or continue with their usual drinking habits, while their heart rhythm was remotely monitored over a six-month study period.

After following participants for six months, researchers found that participants who didn’t drink went an average of 118 days without any irregular heart rhythm, compared to 86 days for those who continued drinking. This difference translated to a 37% improvement in AFib recurrence among those who did not drink compared to those who did.

Researchers also found that quitting drinking was associated with weight loss, as well as significantly fewer hospitalizations for AFib.

While the connection between alcohol and AFib is nothing new, this is the first trial of its kind to test the association in moderate drinkers. According to authors, findings confirm that reducing alcohol intake should be a key lifestyle change for moderate drinkers with AFib.

"This verifies what we believed to be true and have been recommending to our patients. It's terrific to now have science to back that statement up." says ACC.org Editor-in-Chief Kim A. Eagle, MD, MACC.

According to guidelines, moderate drinking is defined as fewer than seven drinks a week for women and fewer than fourteen drinks a week for men. While these limits may be low-risk for many adults, findings suggest that cutting out alcohol entirely is beneficial for patients with AFib.

Questions for You to Consider

  • What is atrial fibrillation?

  • Atrial fibrillation is an irregular heart rhythm caused by abnormal, chaotic electrical impulses in the heart’s upper chambers, the atria. These electrical impulses, which interfere with the heart’s natural pacemaker, fire so rapidly the atria cannot beat with a regular rhythm or squeeze out blood effectively. Instead, they merely quiver while the ventricles, the heart’s lower chambers, beat rapidly.
  • How is atrial fibrillation treated?
  • In general, the goals of atrial fibrillation treatment are to promote a regular heart rhythm or rate and prevent blood clots, which can cause stroke. However, treatment strategies depend on the unique needs of each patient. Treatment options may include antiarrhythmic medication, blood thinners, and a variety of procedures that can help control atrial fibrillation.

Featured Video

AFib affects more than 3 million people in the United States.

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