Drinking small amounts of alcohol frequently is associated with a higher likelihood of atrial fibrillation -- the most common heart rhythm disorder -- than binge drinking, according to a study. Researcher noted that atrial fibrillation raises the risk of stroke by five-fold. Symptoms include palpitations, racing or irregular pulse, shortness of breath, tiredness, chest pain and dizziness.
"Recommendations about alcohol consumption have focused on reducing the absolute amount rather than the frequency," said Jong-Il Choi from Korea University College of Medicine and Korea University Anam Hospital.
"Our study suggests that drinking less often may also be important to protect against atrial fibrillation," Choi said.
A prior meta-analysis found a linear correlation between alcohol and atrial fibrillation: risk increased by eight per cent for every 12 grammes of alcohol (one drink) consumed per week, researchers said. However, it was not clear which is more important: the total amount of alcohol or the number of drinking sessions, they said. This study examined the relative importance of frequent drinking versus binge drinking for new-onset atrial fibrillation.
The analysis included 9,776,956 individuals without atrial fibrillation who underwent a national health check-up in 2009 which included a questionnaire about alcohol consumption.
Participants were followed-up until 2017 for the occurrence of atrial fibrillation. The number of drinking sessions per week was the strongest risk factor for new-onset atrial fibrillation.
Compared with drinking twice per week (reference group), drinking every day was the riskiest, with a hazard ratio (HR) of 1.412, while drinking once a week was the least risky (HR 0.933), the researchers found.
Binge drinking did not show any clear link with new-onset atrial fibrillation, they said. "Our study suggests that frequent drinking is more dangerous than infrequent binge drinking with regard to atrial fibrillation. The number of drinking sessions was related to atrial fibrillation onset regardless of age and sex," said Choi.
"Repeated episodes of atrial fibrillation triggered by alcohol may lead to overt disease. In addition, drinking can provoke sleep disturbance which is a known risk factor for atrial fibrillation," Choi said.
In keeping with other studies, weekly alcohol consumption was related to atrial fibrillation, the researchers said. There was a two per cent increase in the risk of new-onset atrial fibrillation for each gramme of alcohol consumed per week, they said. The study found that compared to mild drinkers, those who drank no alcohol, moderate, or high amounts had 8.6, 7.7 per cent, and 21.5 per cent elevated risks respectively.