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Little daily alcoholic drink increases irregular heartbeat risk

Researchers in Germany said having one small alcoholic drink a day could raise the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, a condition that causes dizziness and palpitations and leaves people more prone to strokes. According to the result of their new report published in the ‘European Heart Journal’, people who consumed as little as 12g of ethanol a day – equivalent to a 330ml beer, a 120ml glass of wine, or 40mls of spirits – were 16 per cent more likely than teetotallers to develop atrial fibrillation (AF) over the course of the 14- year study. Teetotalers are people who don’t drink, not one drop. AF is an irregular, often rapid heart rate that commonly causes poor blood flow.

This condition may have no symptoms, but when symptoms do appear, they include palpitations, shortness of breath and fatigue. The researchers examined the heart health and drinking habits of 108,000 people aged 24 to 97 by combining records from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Italy that stretched over 14 years. Their analysis confirmed the long-held belief that a small amount of alcohol protects against heart failure, with 20g of ethanol a day being optimum – but the same was not true for a condition called AF, or heart arrhythmia.

Co-author on the study at the University Heart and Vascular Centre in Hamburg- Eppendorf, Germany, Prof. Renate Schnabel, a consultant cardiologist, said: “The take-home message is that in contrast to other cardiovascular diseases, even low and moderate alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of AF.”

The findings may be most important for those who were more likely to develop heart arrhythmias because of obesity or high blood pressure, or those who had already been diagnosed, since reducing alcohol intake could lower the risk, Schnabel said.

“Many people have palpitations and dizziness, but one of the bad things about AF is that it is asymptomatic and can lead to other problems such as stroke. In many people, a stroke is the first manifestation of the disease,” she added. People with AF are thought to have a five per cent to seven per cent annual risk of stroke. The risk of heart failure – when the heart pumps too weakly – follows a J-shaped curve with alcohol intake, meaning that it is lower for people who drink a little than for those who are teetotal or heavy drinkers, reported ‘theguardian. com’. But in the study, the increased risk of AF rose steadily from 16 per cent for those who had one small drink a day, to 28 per cent for up to two drinks, and 47 per cent for more than four drinks.

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