Just one alcoholic drink a day can increase the risk of atrial fibrillation.
Atrial fibrillation is an intermittent and rapid heart rate that can increase the risk of heart failure, stroke, and other cardiovascular problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 450,000 hospitalizations are attributable to the disease, contributing to approximately 158,000 deaths annually.
At the start of the study, the researchers tracked the health and drinking habits of 100,092 men and women without atrial fibrillation. They followed them for an average of 14 years and documented 5,854 new cases of the disease. The study is in the European Heart Journal.
A small drink per day – about 4 ounces of wine, 11 ounces of beer, or 1.3 ounces of spirits – was associated with a 16 percent increased relative risk of atrial fibrillation compared to abstaining. With two drinks a day, the increased risk was 36 percent; and with four drinks daily, the risk increased by 59 percent
The study controlled high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, and other health factors. The association with modest drinking was independent of these variables.
"There is data to show that low alcohol consumption on a regular basis is not harmful," said senior author Dr. Renate B. Schnabel, internist at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. "However, if you are at risk for atrial fibrillation, drinking should be reduced as much as possible."