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Alcohol May Trigger Dangerous Palpitations in Atrial Fibrillation Patients

No clear associations between age as a trigger, but study group was small; problem named ‘holiday heart syndrome’ in 1978

June 1, 2012 — A new study of a clinical group with an average age of 59 builds a stronger link between alcohol consumption and serious heart palpitations in patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia. A study in 1978 first discovered such patients experiencing a common and potentially dangerous palpitation after excessive drinking.

The term “holiday heart syndrome” was coined after tje 1978 study since excessive drinking is common during the winter holiday season. The symptoms usually went away when the revelers stopped drinking.

Now, research from UCSF builds on that finding, establishing a stronger causal link between alcohol consumption and serious palpitations in patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia.

 

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Low Levels of Alcohol Consumption Linked With Small Increased Risk of Breast Cancer

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Light Alcohol Drinking Decreases Cancer Risk; More Frequency Jumps Cancer Death Rate

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Heavy Liquor Drinking May Increase Risk of Death from Pancreatic Cancer

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 More links to reports on alcohol consumption below news story.


Read more on Nutrition, Vitamins & Supplements

 

In a paper scheduled to be published August 1 in the American Journal of Cardiology, the University of California, San Francisco (UCSF) researchers report that people with atrial fibrillation had almost a four and a half times greater chance of having an episode if they were consuming alcohol than if they were not.

“One of the remaining big unknowns is why or how this happens,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the UCSF Division of Cardiology.

“In a previous publication, we suggested that there was an effect on the electrical activity of the atrium that leads to these arrhythmias but we do need additional studies to prove that.”

Alcohol and Heart Palpitations

In the study, conducted from September 2004 to March 2011, UCSF researchers interviewed 223 patients with documented cardiac arrhythmia, a term that encompasses both atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), or rapid heart rate originating above the ventricles.

Researchers asked patients, “Does alcohol trigger your heart palpitations?” Participants ranked their symptoms on a scale from one to five (i.e. never, rarely, sometimes, frequently, and always).

“We defined ‘yes’ as frequently or always versus the rest of the responses,” Marcus said, “and found that, after adjusting for potential confounders, atrial fibrillation patients had statistically significant greater odds of reporting that alcohol would trigger their symptoms.”

Of those patients interviewed, 133 reported intermittent or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart palpitations, when drinking, and 90 had SVT, without any atrial fibrillation.

After adjusting for variables, the paroxysmal atrial fibrillation group had a 4.42 greater chance of reporting alcohol consumption as an arrhythmia trigger, compared to the SVT group. Patients’ claims of atrial fibrillation were verified by surface electrocardiograms and invasive cardiac studies.

The mean age of the study participants was 59 years. Eighty percent were Caucasian; 11 percent were Asian; 5 percent Latino, and 4 percent declined to state their ethnicity in the atrial fibrillation group. All were referred to and studied at UCSF.

“We didn’t find any clear associations between age and race as a trigger, but we probably had insufficient number of people in the study,” Marcus said.

Studying the Effects of Alcohol

Other studies have suggested that alcohol could help decrease the chance of developing atherosclerosis, which clogs or narrows the arteries. One of the proposed sources of benefit is the antioxidant in red wine called resveratrol, which may help prevent heart disease by increasing the “good” cholesterol in a person’s body.

“There may be some beneficial effects to alcohol, but it’s important to look at actual heart outcomes, like stroke and death,” Marcus said. “Keep in mind that we used to think estrogen was good for your heart based on observational studies, and now we know that’s not exactly true.”

He says there’s insufficient information at this time to recommend any lifestyle changes related to alcohol and heart disease risk. Still he points out that this report and previous reports indicate alcohol can cause cardiomyopathy and worsen hypertension.

“If someone has heart palpitations or atrial fibrillation, I’m often asked, ‘Can I drink at all?’” Marcus said. “And I don’t know the answer, but it may be that certain people are susceptible.

“The clinical evidence suggests that some people are susceptible and other people aren’t, but if they know that they’re susceptible they should avoid alcohol,” he said.

Co-authors are Mala Mandyam; Vasanth Vedantham, MD, PhD; Melvin Scheinman, MD; Zian Tseng, MD, MAS; Nitish Badhwar, MBBS; Byron Lee, MD, MAS; Randall Lee, MD, PhD; Edward Gerstenfeld, MD; and Jeffrey Olgin, MD, all of the UCSF Division of Cardiology, Electrophysiology Section.

This study was supported by the National Center for Research Resources, the National Center for Advancing Translational Sciences, and the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health, through UCSF-CTSI Grant Number TL1 RR024129. Its contents are solely the responsibility of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.

UCSF is a leading university dedicated to promoting health worldwide through advanced biomedical research, graduate-level education in the life sciences and health professions, and excellence in patient care.


About Atrial Fibrillation (MedlinePlus)

An arrhythmia is a problem with the speed or rhythm of the heartbeat. Atrial fibrillation (AF) is the most common type of arrhythmia. The cause is a disorder in the heart's electrical system.

Often, people who have AF may not even feel symptoms. But you may feel

  • Palpitations -- an abnormal rapid heartbeat

  • Shortness of breath

  • Weakness or difficulty exercising

  • Chest pain

  • Dizziness or fainting

  • Fatigue

  • Confusion

AF can lead to an increased risk of stroke. In many patients, it can also cause chest pain, heart attack, or heart failure.

Doctors diagnose AF using family and medical history, a physical exam, and a test called an electrocardiogram (EKG), which looks at the electrical waves your heart makes. Treatments include medicines and procedures to restore normal rhythm.

By NIH: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute


Problem Drinking in Older Adults - opens in new windowProblem Drinking in Older Adults

[4 min 34 sec]

Click to watch this video: NIH SeniorHealth
Transcript, Video help


Frequently Asked Questions About Alcohol

   ● What is a standard drink in the United States?

A standard drink is equal to 13.7 grams (0.6 ounces) of pure alcohol. Generally, this amount of pure alcohol is found in
      > 12-ounces of beer.
      > 8-ounces of malt liquor.
      > 5-ounces of wine.
      > 1.5-ounces or a “shot” of 80-proof distilled spirits or liquor (e.g., gin, rum, vodka, or whiskey).

   ● Is beer or wine safer to drink than liquor?

No. One 12-ounce beer has about the same amount of alcohol as one 5-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5-ounce shot of liquor. It is the amount of alcohol consumed that affects a person most, not the type of alcoholic drink.

   ● What does moderate drinking mean?
There is no one definition of moderate drinking, but generally the term is used to describe a lower-risk pattern of drinking. According to the
Dietary Guidelines for Americans,1 drinking in moderation is defined as having no more than 1 drink per day for women and no more than 2 drinks per day for men. This definition is referring to the amount consumed on any single day and is not intended as an average over several days.

>> More at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention


Links to more Reports on Seniors and Alcohol in our Archives

Alcohol Consumption by Elderly Reduces Risk of Dementia, Alzheimer’s

Most studies of senior citizens in last 31 years show association between moderate alcohol consumption and better cognitive function and reduced risk of dementia

March 7, 2011


Heavy Alcohol Drinking Spurs High-Grade Prostate Cancer, Stops Prevention by Finasteride

Four or more drinks on 5 or more days per week doubles risk of high-grade prostate cancer

July 13, 2009


Senior Citizens See Almost 40% Drop in Dementia Risk with Moderate Alcohol Drinking

Study of seniors age 75 and older confirms benefits of alcohol in preventing dementia that had been proven for middle aged adults - July 13, 2009


Older People Reduce Death Risk by 25 Percent with Daily Moderate Alcohol Consumption

Large study of people over age 55 says any way you look at it, moderate alcohol is beneficial

March 30, 2009


No Matter if Wine is Red or White, it Can Increase Beast Cancer Risk for Women

Large study shows breast cancer risk increase the same from wine, beer or liquor

March 9, 2009


Older People More Impaired by Social Drinking, More Likely to Think They are OK

It's not clear why but it seems to be a difference in alcohol metabolism: alcohol may affect the brain of older adults differently.

March 5, 2009


Million Women Study Finds Even Moderate Alcohol Consumption Increases Cancer Risk

Risk increases with increase in alcohol consumption and smoking, regardless of alcohol source, i.e., wine, spirits, etc.

Feb. 25, 2009


Drinking Alcohol May Protect Hearts in Older People but It Shrinks Their Brains

The more alcohol consumed, the smaller the total brain volume; stronger in women

Oct. 13, 2008


Red Wine Lowers Lung Cancer Risk in Older Men, Especially Smokers

Two percent lower lung cancer risk with each glass of red wine consumed per month

Oct. 7, 2008


Resverstrol in Red Wine Prevents Breast Cancer Development in Laboratory Study

Prevents first step when estrogen starts process that leads to cancer by blocking formation of DNA adducts

July 7, 2008


Resveratrol in Red Wine May Achieve Same Longevity Results as Starvation Dieting

Study important because it suggests that resveratrol and caloric restriction may govern the same master genetic pathways related to aging

June 4, 2008


Another Study Points to Higher Breast Cancer Risk from Alcohol for Older Women

The more older (postmenopausal) women drink the greater the risk

April 14, 2008


New Study Confirms Red Wine Antioxidant Kills Cancer

Researchers pinpoint how resveratrol induces pancreatic cancer cell death

March 26, 2008


Red Wine Element Reverses Pathways of Obesity That Cause Age-Related Diseases

Resveratrol previously found to extend lifespan of other organisms may help against heart disease, diabetes

November 2, 2006


Wine, Beer, Liquor It Doesn't Matter – Too Much Jumps Breast Cancer Risk

Three drinks of alcohol a day is as bad as smoking a pack a day

Sept. 27, 2007


Moderate Drinking May Boost Memory and Protect Against Alzheimer's

Research grows saying what we eat, drink impacts dementia

November 2, 2006

 

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