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Atrial fibrillation is a disease associated with a number of risk factors and alcohol may be one of them. Alcohol has a large influence not only as a risk factor for atrial fibrillation, but also has a big role in post-atrial fibrillation management.

Atrial fibrillation is a disease of society that becomes more common as patient ages. One study predicts that the prevalence of atrial fibrillation could be as high as 20 percent of patients over the age of 80 [1]. Current studies predict that the rate of atrial fibrillation could double by 2030 [2]. A number of factors can contribute to the likelihood of developing atrial fibrillation but 

  • hypertension (found in 60 percent of cases), 
  • heart failure (in 55 percent of cases) and
  • other cardiac anomalies (in 44 percent of cases)

were consistent risk factors that increase your chances of getting atrial fibrillation [3].

The treatment for atrial fibrillation can vary in a number of different ways from pharmacology to lifestyle modifications in a form of exercise tips when you have atrial fibrillation, to even diet tips and changes to reduce your symptoms.

A common question that often surfaces is whether drinking alcohol will worsen your atrial fibrillation symptoms. 

Is Alcohol a Risk Factor for Your Atrial Fibrillation? 

Alcohol is a risk factor for a number of diseases of society but prior to 2010, there was no concrete link between atrial fibrillation and alcohol consumption. One study finally made the connection between these two conditions and was able to establish a dose-response relationship between the number of drinks you consume and the increased chance of you ultimately getting atrial fibrillation. This meta-analysis followed both women and men who consumed 24 grams, 60 grams or 120 grams daily respectively.

Even in small doses (100 milliliters of wine has 10 grams of alcohol), the relative risk for atrial fibrillation was slightly higher in light drinkers than the non-drinking population. Heavy drinkers were found to be twice as likely as the normal population. [4]

A further study elaborated on a well-known phenomenon in the medical world referred to as "holiday heart syndrome." This is a condition coined after a number of healthy and young individuals began presenting to the emergency clinic after weekend binge drinking episodes or after long holiday breaks. These patients complained of chest pain and were later diagnosed with atrial fibrillation. It was determined that this binge-drinking pattern could exacerbate the conducting potential of the heart and lead to the atrial fibrillation in patients that had no prior underlying cardiac damage. [5]

Does Drinking with Atrial Fibrillation Worsen Your Prognosis? 

Now that we have established that alcohol is indeed a risk factor for ultimately causing your atrial fibrillation, now it is important to determine if drinking with atrial fibrillation can worsen your rhythm even further and hinder your atrial fibrillation treatment.

You don't need a medical degree to come to the logical conclusion that obviously alcohol can worsen your atrial fibrillation but be careful, you may be jumping to a surprisingly wrong conclusion too soon.

A recent study done to determine if there was a worsening of symptoms between patients with atrial fibrillation and continued alcohol consumption did not find the same dose-dependent response that was found in the "risk factor" study.

This shocking finding in the study proved that patients who gave up drinking alcohol after being diagnosed with atrial fibrillation were the only group that statistically had a worsening of symptoms during the study. Those who consume alcohol at a moderate or even high level of alcohol did not consistently increase the symptoms associated with worsening atrial fibrillation. 

In layman's terms, once you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, it is better to continue drinking rather than trying to stop. [6]

Once diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, patients may have an option of meeting with their cardiologist or cardiac surgeons and deciding to undergo a cardiac ablation surgery in order to limit their symptoms.

Another study was performed to determine the risk of drinking alcohol and the recurrent of atrial fibrillation episodes after the patients had undergone atrial fibrillation. This study examined just under 1,400 patients who had undergone cardiac catheter ablations surgeries with roughly 50 percent of patients consuming alcohol consistently. Just after the conclusion of the surgery, patients who did not have a history of drinking were found to have an atrial-recurrence free rate of around 42 percent compared to those who had a history of drinking recording an atrial-recurrence free rate of only 34 percent. After 4 years, these same patients were re-examined and these patients were found to have nearly identical recurrent rates of atrial fibrillation. As you can see, drinking alcohol may prove to be a short-term risk right after your cardiac catheter ablation from your atrial fibrillation but in the long-run, it does not add any additional risk to your arrhythmia. [7]

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