Frequent Drinking Raises Risk for New AFib

The frequency of alcohol consumption, rather than the intensity (binge drinking), appeared to have a greater effect on the risk for new-onset atrial fibrillation (AFib), according to a new study.

The researchers, publishing in EP Europace, noted that heavy alcohol consumption is an established risk factor for new-onset AFib.

“Recommendations about alcohol consumption have focused on reducing the absolute amount rather than the frequency,” author Dr. Jong-Il Choi, of Korea University College of Medicine and Korea University Anam Hospital in Seoul, said in a press release. “Our study suggests that drinking less often may also be important to protect against AFib.”

The study population consisted of 9,776,956 patients without AFib who underwent a health examination in 2009 in the form of a questionnaire that inquired about alcohol consumption. Inquiries included the influence of drinking frequency (day per week), alcohol consumption per drinking session (grams per session), and alcohol consumption per week. Study participants were followed-up in 2017 with questions about new-onset AFib.

According to the results, patients who drank once per week had the lowest risk (HR=0.933; 95% CI, 0.916 to 0.950) and those who drank every day had the highest risk for new onset AFib (HR=1.412; 95% CI, 1.373 to 1.453). They also reported no clear association between the amount of alcohol intake per drinking sessions and the risk for new-onset AFib. When stratified by weekly alcohol intake (210 grams per week), participants who drank large amounts of alcohol per session had lower risk for new-onset AFib.

“Our study suggests that frequent drinking is more dangerous than infrequent binge drinking with regard to atrial fibrillation” Dr. Choi said. “The number of drinking sessions was related to AFib onset regardless of age and sex. Repeated episodes of atrial fibrillation triggered by alcohol may lead to overt disease. In addition, drinking can provoke sleep disturbance which is a known risk factor for AFib.”