January 03, 2020
Alcohol's relationship with the heart is complicated. While consuming red wine in moderation is believed to be good for the heart, a new study suggests that people with atrial fibrillation should abstain from all alcohol.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is an irregular heartbeat or arrhythmia that can lead to complications like blood clots, stroke and heart failure. According to the American Heart Association, more than 2 million Americans live with AFib.
The latest study included 140 patients from six hospitals in Australia. Each of them consumed 10 or more alcoholic drinks each week and either had paroxysmal or persistent atrial fibrillation. Researchers randomly assigned them to either abstain from alcohol or to continue their regular consumption.
About 53% of the patients in the abstinence group had an AFib episode reoccurrence during the study period. In comparison, 73% of the patients who consumed alcohol had a reoccurrence. The abstinence group also experienced longer gaps of time between AFib episode, an average of 120 days versus 87 days.
Some in the abstinence group were still averaging about two drinks per week, according to Reuters Health. Only about 61% of them were able to completely stop drinking. However, those who did saw the most marked reduction in AFib episodes.
"What this study shows is the potential impact of alcohol reduction or abstinence in people with symptomatic heart rhythm problems," co-author Dr. Peter Kistler, of The Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, told Reuters Health.
In an editorial that accompanied the study in The New England Journal of Medicine, Dr. Anne Gillis, of the University of Calgary, pointed out that completely abstaining from alcohol is a challenge for many people.
She wrote that the study "presents a compelling argument for alcohol abstinence as part of the successful management of atrial fibrillation. Nevertheless, the sobering reality is that for many persons with atrial fibrillation, total abstinence from alcohol may be a difficult goal to achieve."