Excessive alcohol consumption increases the risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and congestive heart failure in the same way that high blood pressure, diabetes, smoking, obesity, and other commonly studied risk factors for heart disease, a new study finds.
“Even if you have no underlying risk factors, abuse of alcohol still increases the risk of these heart conditions," said lead researcher Gregory M. Marcus, MD. Making serious changes to alcohol intake can make a huge difference concerning heart disease risk, Marcus and the other researchers found, similar to recommendations made to eat healthier and exercise as well as medications prescribed to lower blood pressure are designed to reduce an individual’s risk of heart disease.
Marcus and other researchers in the Division of Cardiology at the University of California, San Francisco examined patient information from a database of California residents of drinking age who had received ambulatory surgery, emergency surgery, or inpatient medical care any time between 2005 and 2009.
Just under two percent of the millions of patients in the database had been diagnosed with alcohol abuse, and even after considering the effect of other possible risk factors, researchers saw that alcohol abuse in surgery patients was linked to around a twofold increased risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and congestive heart failure. These statistics are similar to other risk factors like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity.
Marcus and his group were surprised at their findings. "We hope this data will temper the enthusiasm for drinking in excess and will avoid any justification for excessive drinking because people think it will be good for their heart,” he said. “These data pretty clearly prove the opposite."
But what about the studies that seem to show that alcohol consumption in moderation is good for the heart? "The great majority of previous research relied exclusively on self-reports of alcohol abuse," Marcus said. "That can be an unreliable measure, especially in those who drink heavily. In our study, alcohol abuse was documented in patients' medical records."
The major differences between this study and other studies is the amount of alcohol consumed. In small amounts, it is plausible that alcohol could have a positive effect on the heart. But Marcus’s study clearly shows that dangerous risk of heart disease ensues with excessive alcohol consumption.
The study was recently published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Source: American College of Cardiology