People who binge drink are far more likely than those who abstain from drinking to suffer from atrial fibrillation, a type of irregular heartbeat that can lead to stroke, heart failure, and death. The findings came from a new study by the University of Sydney and were published in the British Medical Journal. Binge drinking is defined as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks for men and four or more for women within about two hours.
What is AFib?
AFib is a type of irregular heartbeat that affects about 2.2 million people in the United States, according to the American Heart Association. AFib accounts for about 1 in 4 strokes and occurs more often in older people and those with high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, obesity, or valve problems.
Atrial fibrillation (AFib) is a type of irregular heartbeat that can occur in people of all ages but is more common in older people. Symptoms include palpitations, chest pain or discomfort, and breathlessness. AFib interferes with the heart's blood flow regulation by causing the heart to beat too rapidly or irregularly. The condition can cause sudden unexpected death (sudden arrhythmia).
What is Binge Drinking?
The study defined binge drinking as consuming five or more alcoholic drinks for men and four or more for women within about two hours.
Likely To Have Atrial Fibrillation.
According to the authors, a good predictor of an individual suffering from potentially fatal atrial fibrillation is a history of binge drinking in the past. For example, 1 in 7 people with atrial fibrillation were binge drinkers, two compared with 1 in 30 who did not have the condition.
It tends to be More Common in Men Than Women. Before the study, it was not clear if the relationship between binge drinking and episodes of AFib was related to gender. The study found that binge drinking accounted for more than one-third of all cases (36%) of atrial fibrillation in men and 21% in women. The authors concluded that men are more likely than women to suffer from AFib if they have a history of binge drinking.
Is Alcohol a Risk Factor?
Dr. Paul Komesaroff, the lead author of the study and Professor in Public Health at the University of Sydney, said: "The findings provide further evidence that binge drinking has serious health implications and should be strictly limited by medical professionals." The researchers analyzed data from more than 26,000 men and women who had no history of heart problems or heart disease. Binge drinkers were determined to be those who consumed five or more alcoholic drinks on a single occasion at least once a month over one year.
AFib in Binge Drinkers.
The study found that binge drinking increased the risk of AFib, and those who binge drank two or more times a month were twice as likely to develop AFib. Those who binge drank at least once a month were also at greater risk than abstainers for heart attack, heart failure, stroke, and death due to all causes.
Women appeared to have a different response to alcohol compared with men. In women, binge drinking was linked to a significantly increased risk of strokes, heart attacks, and death from all causes but was not linked to an increased risk of AFib. For male binge drinkers, the link was only with AFib.
Combination of Alcohol and Medication.
A further finding from the study is that alcohol acts as a risk factor in combination with common medications used to treat high blood pressure. This could be important for people prescribed these drugs and who drink regularly. The study also found that the effects of alcohol were greater in people who had a family history of alcoholism.
How to Limit Alcohol.
The researchers recommend a balanced, low-GI diet and regular exercise. Dr. Komesaroff, the co-author of the study, adds: "One of the most important messages that we can take away from this study is that our advice to not drink regularly carries great weight. It would be more appropriate to advise those who drink regularly to limit their intake. It is clear that the more a person drinks, the greater the danger they are putting their health in."
Given the increased risk of stroke, heart attack, and death from all causes, the researchers advised limiting alcohol intake to no more than two drinks per day for men and 1.5 drinks per day for women. The journal emphasized that advice should not be given to pregnant or planning a pregnancy because of the health risks associated with alcohol intake.
Is Binge Drinking Linked to Episodes of AFib?
Amanda Barr, senior media officer for the British Medical Journal (BMJ), said: "This study provides further evidence to support existing guidelines that alcohol is linked to a higher risk of atrial fibrillation and may be a cause rather than an effect of the condition." The study indicates that the risk is more significant when alcohol intake is high weekly than on a single occasion. It also found that alcohol was linked to AFib in women but not in men. According to Komesaroff, who worked on the study with Dr. Jane Warren and Professor Colin Baigent at Oxford University, the findings support current recommendations that patients should be advised against drinking alcohol in excess.
This study was supported by an Australian Research Council Discovery Project grant. Dr. Jane Warren is a Senior Lecturer in Public Health at the University of Sydney, and Professor Colin Baigent is a Reader in Public Health at Oxford University. The funding did not influence their findings, according to the BMJ spokesperson.
Cardiologists in the United States warn of the risks associated with binge drinking. They say that binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of sudden cardiac death, non-fatal heart attacks, strokes, and irregular heart rhythms.
Dr. John G. Canto Jr., a cardiologist at NorthShore University HealthSystem in Evanston, Illinois, said: "Binge drinking is also associated with hypertension and arrhythmias." Dr. Katherine M. Beck, a cardiologist and professor at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health said: "Alcoholic beverages contain no known proven medicinal benefits.
The majority of alcohol consumed is not in the form of the beverage itself. It is in the form of added sugar, giving it energy. It's a toxic energy source."
In conclusion, the study findings suggest that limiting alcohol intake to two drinks each day and avoiding binge drinking is essential in reducing the risks associated with alcohol and heart disease.