Cardiac arrhythmia: Low regular alcohol consumption increases the risk

Cardiac arrhythmia: Low regular alcohol consumption increases the risk

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Regular small amounts of alcohol harm the heart

According to a recent study, the regular consumption of smaller amounts of alcohol is associated with a higher likelihood of cardiac arrhythmias than the less frequent drinking of alcohol - even if it is a larger amount.

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) recently published a study that shows that regular consumption of small amounts of alcohol leads to an increased risk of cardiac arrhythmia. For the analysis, the data of almost ten million people who came from a national health examination were evaluated. Those who drank a small amount of alcohol daily had a significantly higher risk of arrhythmia than those who only consumed alcohol once a week - even if they were larger amounts. The study was recently published in the specialist journal "EP Europace".

The frequency of drinking has so far been underestimated

"Previous recommendations on alcohol consumption have focused on reducing the absolute amount and not on the frequency of drinking," says study author Dr. Jong-Il Choi. The study suggests that drinking less often can help protect the heart. Atrial fibrillation is one of the most common cardiac arrhythmias and increases the risk of stroke by a factor of five. The following symptoms can indicate an irregular heartbeat:

  • Palpitations,
  • Racing heart,
  • irregular pulse,
  • Flapping heart,
  • Shortness of breath,
  • Fatigue,
  • Chest pain,
  • Dizziness.

Influence of drinking sessions so far unclear

The researchers emphasize that previous studies have already shown a linear relationship between alcohol and atrial fibrillation. For every 12 grams of pure alcohol per week, the risk increases by eight percent. This amount is approximately contained in a bottle of beer (0.33 milliliters). The influence of the number of days of the week on which alcohol is drunk was previously unclear.

Course of the study

In 2009, health data on 9,776,956 people without atrial fibrillation were recorded as part of a national survey. The data also included the participants' regular drinking habits. The subjects were then observed until 2017 and examined for the occurrence of atrial fibrillation.

The number of drinking days was the biggest risk factor

When evaluating the data, the researchers found that the number of days on which alcohol was drunk was the greatest risk factor for the occurrence of atrial fibrillation. The research team divided groups according to the number of days that alcohol was consumed within a week. The comparison was based on the so-called hazard ratio (HR), which is often used in clinical studies to indicate the risk ratio between different treatment groups. Those who drank alcohol every day had the highest HR of 1,412. By contrast, drinking alcohol once a week had the lowest HR of 0.933. As a result, cardiac arrhythmia occurred around 50 percent more frequently in the group of participants who consumed alcohol than in the group who drank alcohol only once a week.

Regular drinking leads to poor sleep quality

"Our study suggests that frequent drinking of small amounts of alcohol is more dangerous in relation to atrial fibrillation than less alcohol consumption of larger amounts," summarizes Dr. Choi. This statement applies regardless of age and gender. Repeated episodes of atrial fibrillation triggered by alcohol can lead to chronic heart disease, according to Choi. In addition, regular drinking leads to poorer sleep quality, which in turn is a known risk factor for atrial fibrillation.

The quantity is also decisive

Consistent with other studies, regardless of the number of drinking days, the amount of weekly alcohol consumption was associated with atrial fibrillation. Small amounts that are consumed only once a week even seem to reduce the risk slightly. In the current study, the risk of developing an arrhythmia was the lowest among these people. Participants who did not drink alcohol had an 8.6 percent higher risk compared to this group. High alcohol consumption increased the risk of atrial fibrillation by 21.5 percent compared to low alcohol consumption.

Does low alcohol consumption occasionally protect against atrial fibrillation?

The study data suggest that occasional low alcohol consumption can protect the heart, but daily consumption is harmful - even if it is very small. Dr. Choi emphasizes, however, that the protective effect of occasional low alcohol consumption has to be confirmed in further studies before a recommendation can be made. "It is not yet clear whether it is a real benefit or a confusing variable," he emphasizes. (vb)

Author and source information

This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.

Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek


  • Yun Gi Kim, Kyung-Do Han, Jong-Il Choi: Frequent drinking is a more important risk factor for new-onset atrial fibrillation than binge drinking: a nationwide population-based study, EP Europace, 2019,
  • Sophia Antipolis ,: Frequent drinking is greater risk factor for heart rhythm disorder than binge drinking, European Society of Cardiology (ESC), 10/17/2019,

Video: Dr. Scott Davis Talks Effects of Alcohol Abuse on Heart (July 2022).


  1. Erwin

    This very good sentence is just about right

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