Abstinence from alcohol helps irregular heartbeat
Clinicians world-wide now have stronger evidence to use when asking their atrial fibrillation patients to stop drinking.
The results of a study led by The Alfred and Baker Heart and Diabetes Institute proves a link between alcohol and an irregular heartbeat known as atrial fibrillation - the most common heart rhythm disorder and a leading cause of stroke in older adults.
The Australian study involved patients who have atrial fibrillation (AF) and who consumed ten standard drinks or more per week. The group was randomly divided in half and either continued to drink or stopped drinking for a period of 6 months.
Study senior author Professor Peter Kistler, Head of Cardiac Electrophysiology at The Alfred, said abstinence from alcohol results in a significant reduction in AF recurrence.
“We found that people who stopped drinking, or substantially reduced their alcohol intake, had longer AF-free survival, lower overall AF burden and a significant reduction in moderate-severe AF related symptoms at 6-months follow up,” said Prof Kistler. “This will change the advice that doctors give to their patients.”
Study participant, 63-year-old Nigel Prince, was consuming more than ten standard drinks a week, not sleeping well and struggling with AF.
“The alcohol was doing it, even after two or three drinks I felt tired and restless – like I’d done a 30 km bike ride but I’d just walked down the street,” said Nigel.
Nigel was randomly selected to be part of the group who abstained from alcohol. He said he felt a remarkable difference as the months progressed and his AF has improved.
“I was feeling so lousy, I was motivated to stop drinking, and for 6 months I didn’t touch a drop, now it’s totally changed my life.”
Prof Peter Kistler says alcohol has a direct toxic effect on the upper chambers of the heart, along with high blood pressure and sleep apnoea – which can cause AF or exacerbate AF.
“Researchers knew there was a relationship between alcohol and AF but it was never proven in a randomised controlled study – until now,” said Prof Kistler. “There may be a safe limit – one to two drinks, twice a week for people with AF.”