As Alcohol Consumption Dips, So Does Incidence of Arrhythmia

January 2, 2020

New research shows that abstaining from alcohol can reduce the occurrence of irregular or abnormal heart rhythms in adults with atrial fibrillation who are moderate consumers of alcohol.

New research shows that abstaining from alcohol can reduce the occurrence of irregular or abnormal heart rhythms in adults with atrial fibrillation who are moderate consumers of alcohol.

Arrhythmia is known to be associated with alcohol consumption, but few studies have explored the association between atrial fibrillation and reducing alcohol intake.

Excessive alcohol intake, and even regular long-term alcohol consumption, can be associated with adverse cardiovascular events. Alcohol consumption in general is associated with atrial fibrillation, an increase in the size of the left atrium of the heart, impairments in atrial function, and adverse electrical remodeling.

Published in the January 2 issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, Australian researchers conducted a multicenter, prospective, open-label, randomized, controlled trial at six hospitals.

The study included 140 adults (85% men, mean age 63 years) who consumed 10 or more standard alcoholic drinks (with one drink containing approximately 12 g of pure alcohol) per week. Men and women in trial had to have had short, frequent bursts of arrhythmia or persistent atrial fibrillation at baseline. The group was evenly divided into two groups:  one reduced their alcohol intake from 16.8±7.7 to 2.1±3.7 drinks per week (down 87.5%) and the second group reduced their alcohol intake from 16.4±6.9 drinks per week to 13.2±6.5 drinks per week (down 19.5%).

After two weeks, 37 of 70 patients (53%) in the abstinence group experienced atrial fibrillation as compared to 51 of 70 patients (73%) in the control group. Abstinence had a long-term effect as well. Over a course of six months, .5% of patients in the abstinence group reported fewer events than control group at 1.2%.

"Regular alcohol consumption is a potentially modifiable risk factor for atrial fibrillation. In this trial involving regular alcohol drinkers with atrial fibrillation, patients randomly assigned to the abstinence group decreased their drinking from about 17 drinks per week to two drinks per week and had a reduction in both atrial fibrillation burden and risk of recurrence of atrial fibrillation," wrote researchers who were led by Peter Kistler, M.D., Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute, Melbourne, Australia.

REFERENCE:  Aleksandr Voskoboinik, M.B., B.S., Ph.D., Jonathan M. Kalman, M.B., B.S., Ph.D., Anurika De Silva, Ph.D., et al. "Alcohol Abstinence in Drinkers with Atrial Fibrillation," NEJM. Jan. 2, 2020. DOI:DOI: 10.1056/NEJMoa1817591