Alcohol and the Heart

Among people with a history of atrial fibrillation, the most common type of arrhythmia, even one glass of alcohol can increase the risk of incurring arrhythmias shortly after consumption.

In atrial fibrillation (AFib), the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly, causing abnormal blood flow to the bottom chambers. This arrhythmia can lead to serious health consequences, including:

  • Blood clots
  • Heart failure
  • Stroke

AFib can be caused by many uncontrollable risk factors, such as age, genetics, sex, and race. But one study has found one factor leading to a significant increase in episodes—drinking—and that is controllable.

Drinking Alcohol Increases Episodes of AFib

According to the American College of Cardiology, drinking as little as one standard-size glass of alcohol can increase the risk of an AFib episode in people who have a history of the condition.

While chronic alcohol consumption has been widely studied for its link to AFib, this research suggests the likelihood of an AFib episode increases twofold within a few hours of drinking one serving of beer or glass of wine. To reduce the chances of developing serious arrhythmias, scientists suggest cutting back on alcohol or avoiding it altogether.

Tips for Abstaining at Parties

For those suffering from AFib, it’s important to avoid alcohol at social gatherings, whether that’s happy hour after work or a weekend cookout with friends. Here are some tips to abstain.

  • Have strong social support. Let your friends and family know why it’s important for you to abstain from drinking alcohol.
  • Keep a nonalcoholic drink in your hand. People may be less likely to offer you a drink if they see you already have something.
  • Be assertive. Learn to say no and stick by it.
  • Leave early if you need to. Build your escape plan before you get to the gathering, and if you start to get too tempted, leave.


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