Health + Wellness

‘Holiday Heart’: When Drinking Triggers Dangerous A-fib


holiday heart

With holiday festivities approaching, you might want to think twice about that cocktail. Or at least you should avoid that second round, especially if you have a history of your heart beating irregularly.

A new study appears to confirm the existence of “holiday heart syndrome” — a higher risk of atrial fibrillation (a-fib), after even moderate drinking.

While past studies have suggested that drinking more alcohol over the long term was associated with a higher risk of developing a-fib, it has been hard to prove it in a real-world setting.

Modern technology has changed that, study co-author Dr. Gregory Marcus, an associate chief of cardiology for research at the University of California, San Francisco says.

Marcus and his colleagues outfitted study volunteers with wearable alcohol sensors to see if consuming alcohol would have a heightened risk of an atrial fibrillation event.

RELATED: Your Morning Cup of Coffee Can Affect Your Heart Rhythm

“We know that atrial fibrillation is the most common arrhythmia and we know that it can come and go on its own, but the reason a particular episode occurs when it occurs remains largely a mystery,” Marcus shares. “We generally attribute the fact that an atrial fibrillation episode happened at 2 o’clock on a Tuesday, instead of 3 o’clock on a Wednesday, to just bad luck or pure chance.”

“So a question is whether there are identifiable and measurable environmental exposures that might actually influence the risk that a discrete episode will occur. And more clinically relevant, the question is whether there are behaviors or exposures that are directly under the control of the patient that can influence the chance an atrial fibrillation episode will occur,” Marcus says.

The answer, in a word: yes.

The 100 study participants all had experienced atrial fibrillation in the past. They wore a continuous electrocardiogram (ECG) monitor during the four-week study period, as well as an ankle-worn transdermal ethanol sensor. They documented each drink consumed by hitting a

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