Risk of irregular heartbeat from frequent alcohol consumption in people under 40 years old

Moderate to heavy drinking over an extended period of time may increase the risk of a dangerous type of irregular heartbeat in adults under 40, according to a new study from South Korea.

Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, occurs when the upper chambers of the heart beat irregularly and can increase the risk of stroke fivefold if left untreated. The disease is estimated to affect 12.1 million people in the United States by 2030, according to statistics from the American Heart Association.

Previous studies have linked higher alcohol consumption to an increased risk of AFib, but there has been little research in young adults, said study co-principal investigator Dr. Minju Han, third-year resident in internal medicine at Seoul National University Hospital.

“We young people have too much confidence in our health and think that we will never get sick because we are young,” said Han, who is 29 years old. “But when atrial fibrillation is diagnosed at an early age, the disease lasts longer and this leads to a poor prognosis.

Researchers looked at the records of more than 1.5 million South Koreans aged 20 to 39 without AFib who had had annual exams from 2009 to 2012. Data comes from the National Health Insurance System, which is compulsory. and requires everyone to take a test. at two years old which includes questions about alcohol consumption. About 42% of participants reported consuming moderate or heavy in the past four years, and most were men.

Over a follow-up period of about five and a half years, the overall AFib level was low – 0.2%. But the risk was up to 25% higher in those who reported moderate or heavy drinking compared to non-drinkers or light drinkers.

Moderate drinking was defined as at least 105 grams of alcohol per week, which is equivalent to 7.5 standard drinks. Binge drinking was defined as at least 15 drinks per week. A standard drink is usually equivalent to 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor. For adults who choose to drink, federal dietary guidelines recommend no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women.

The study found that those who reported heavy drinking in all four years had a 47% increased risk of AFib compared to non-drinkers. Researchers have monitored a multitude of factors, including age, gender, smoking status, level of exercise, and a variety of conditions related to heart problems.

The results, presented earlier this month at the AHA’s Virtual Scientific Sessions conference, are considered preliminary until a full article is published in a peer-reviewed journal.

The results may not be applicable to all races and ethnicities since the study population included only Asians. Another limitation is that people may not remember or accurately report their level of alcohol consumption.

“This is the first study to demonstrate the effect of alcohol on a younger population,” said Dr. Peter Noseworthy, electrophysiologist and professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, who was not involved. in the study. “And even though the absolute risks are low in this age group, due to a very large sample size, the authors quite clearly demonstrate a dose-related effect of alcohol on the risk of atrial fibrillation, similar to this. that we have seen in older populations. “

When a person in their 20s or 30s develops AFib, he said, “It is not uncommon for alcohol to appear to be at least an aggravating factor. So I think it’s important for us to talk to our patients about it, and it’s good to have more definitive evidence that there’s an association there.

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By Karen Schmidt, American Heart Association News

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