AFib and Drinking Alcohol
Although moderate drinking has been heralded as a gateway to heart health, that can be a dangerous assumption. In fact, drinking can have a big impact on your risk for atrial fibrillation, and even a moderate amount is enough to cause concern for people who are at risk for heart problems.
Alcohol is currently the most common drug consumed worldwide, and acute alcohol consumption has been linked with heart abnormalities like the so-called "holiday heart syndrome” – atrial fibrillation and other rhythm disturbances caused by alcohol in healthy individuals.
Most recent studies agree that alcohol increases a person’s risk of AFib – sometimes by as much as 45%. A lot depends on how much you consume at once, and during the course of a week, with wine and hard alcohol bringing the highest risk; however, research shows that any level of alcohol consumption will tend to increase your risk for AFib rather than lower it.
How Alcohol Interferes with Your Heart Health
Chronic heavy consumption of alcohol is toxic for the heart tissues. It promotes accumulation of fats (especially triglycerides) and increases the risk of heart attacks and strokes. Heavy drinking is also associated with the development of cancers (mouth, larynx, liver, breast, and colorectal), anemia, cirrhosis (permanent damage of the liver), dementia, anemia, depression, gout, high blood pressure, and many more other health problems.
Experts are still unclear about the exact relationship between alcohol and atrial fibrillation, but there are several factors that can encourage negative consequences:
- Vagal Tone: Alcohol can interact with the vagal nerve, which runs through the neck. The more alcohol you drink, the more vagal nerve activity (or vagal tone) you experience, and the higher your risk of an AFib episode. For some, one drink is enough to spark an influx in vagal nerve activity.
- Dehydration: Alcohol is a major cause of dehydration, and dehydration can put a lot of stress on your heart. A change in fluid levels can impede a variety of organ systems, and that can bring on sudden AFib episodes.
- Medication: Certain drugs can interact with alcohol, especially vitamin K antagonists that thin the blood, like warfarin or acenocoumarol. Your risk of bleeding will increase when you drink alcohol if you’re on blood-thinning medication, so it’s especially important that you stay within the recommended guidelines.
Based on current guidelines, low to moderate alcohol consumption (two doses of alcohol daily) does not usually cause problems in AFib sufferers. One dose (or unit) of alcohol equals one beer, one glass of wine, or 25 mls of distilled spirits. However, heavy consumption should be avoided, and you should have at least two or three days in the week during which you don't drink alcohol at all.