Alcohol and atrial fibrillation

 We’ve long known that binge drinking (consuming large amounts of alcohol in a short time period) can trigger a bout of atrial fibrillation, the rapid, irregular heart rhythm commonly known as afib. Doctors refer to this phenomenon as “holiday heart” because they see more cases of it around the holidays, when people are more likely to overindulge in alcohol.

However, growing evidence suggests that in general, the more you drink on a daily basis, the more likely you are to be diagnosed with afib. Even small amounts make a difference. One observational study that tracked people over an average of 14 years found that even a single drink per day — a glass of wine, a beer, or a shot of whiskey, gin, or other spirits — was linked to a 16% higher risk of developing afib compared with not drinking at all.

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For people who already have afib, alcohol appears to have a nearly instantaneous effect on their heart rhythm, according to a recent study. People in the study wore heart rate monitors and special ankle sensors to measure their alcohol intake. Researchers found that a single drink doubled the odds of a bout of afib occurring within the next four hours.

In yet another study, researchers created three-dimensional structural maps of the left atrium (one of the two upper chambers of the heart) in people with afib. Compared with light drinkers and nondrinkers, moderate drinkers had more evidence of scarring and electrical signaling problems in their atria. The severity of those problems was directly linked to the severity of afib among the participants.

The bottom line is that even small amounts of alcohol may harm your heart, which is why avoiding alcohol or limiting yourself to an occasional drink on special occasions may be the safest approach. Alcohol use is linked to many other health threats, including car accidents, violence, high blood pressure, and various cancers, and the risks rise in tandem with the amount you drink.

By the way, afib does appear to have a genetic component, although the degree of added risk to family members of people who have afib isn’t entirely clear. As for other ways to lower your personal risk, maintaining a healthy weight and getting regular exercise can help.

— Deepak L. Bhatt, M.D., M.P.H.

Bible verses for today’s meditation and inspiration: Matthew E. McLaren

Isaiah 43:1-3 Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord you God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior.

Luke 12:25-26 Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to your life[a]? 26 Since you cannot do this very little thing, why do you worry about the rest?

Philippians 4:6 Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

John 14:27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.

Psalm 34:4 I sought the Lord, and he answered me, and delivered me from all my fears.

Psalm 27: 1-3 The LORD is my light and my salvation whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life— of whom shall I be afraid? When the wicked advance against me to devour me,it is my enemies and my foes who will stumble and fall.Though an army besiege me, my heart will not fear;though war break out against me,even then I will be confident.

Joshua 1:9 Be strong and courageous; do not be frightened or dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.

Psalm 145: 18-19 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. He fulfills the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cry and saves them.

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