US Pharm. 2021;46(2):43-44.

A study of nearly 108,000 people has found that people who regularly drink a modest amount of alcohol are at increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AFib). The study, published in the European Heart Journal, found that compared with drinking no alcohol at all, just one alcoholic drink a day was linked to a 16% increased risk of AFib over an average (median) follow-up time of nearly 14 years.

This means that while four teetotalers in 100 might develop AFib over the period of the study, five per 100 might develop the condition if they consumed alcohol starting with slightly more than an alcoholic drink a week, more than 75% of them consumed up to one drink a day. The researchers categorized one alcoholic drink as containing 12 g of ethanol, which is the equivalent of a small (120 mL) glass of wine, a small beer (330 mL), or 40 mL of spirits.

It is well known that people who drink a lot of alcohol regularly are at increased risk of developing heart failure, and heart failure can increase the incidence of AFib. Several studies have shown a slightly higher risk of heart problems for people who never drink alcohol; they often show that this risk reduces for people who drink a modest amount and then rises sharply with the more alcohol consumed, creating a “J” shape on graphs. Until now, it has not been clear whether this was also the case with AFib.

In addition to the 16% increased risk of AFib compared with teetotalers seen in people who consumed only one alcoholic drink a day, the researchers found that the risk increased with increasing alcohol intake; up to two drinks a day was associated with a 28% increased risk, and this went up to 47% for those who consumed more than four.

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