FINDINGS have emerged from the Korea University College of Medicine in Seoul, People’s Republic of Korea, suggesting that there exists a greater risk for atrial fibrillation (A-fib) development through daily drinking of small quantities of alcohol opposed to episodes of binging. As between 2.7 and 6.1 million individuals in the USA live with A-fib, and the disease is associated with numerous comorbidities, these findings could have large implications for the national approach taken to tackle the condition on a public health level.
Atrial fibrillation is characterised by the pooling of blood in the ventricles of the heart and often occurs as a result of heart disease or as a complication of surgery. This clotting accounts for the significantly increased risk of stroke in A-fib patients (4–5x) compared to those without. Although previous research has shown that increased alcohol consumption predisposes to A-fib, the number of drinking episodes had not been taken into consideration when trying to determine the strongest risk factor.
In this study, a total of 9,776,956 individuals from the Korean National Health Insurance Service database had subsets of data analysed, revealing that as part of a health check-up in 2009 none of the individuals had A-fib. The investigators tracked the effects of weekly alcohol consumption (calculated as the number of drinking sessions per week multiplied by the amount of alcohol consumed in each session) through to 2017 and monitored the manifestation of A-fib.
Whilst weekly alcohol consumption was shown to be a significant factor for disease onset, the number of drinking sessions appeared to be the most impactful factor. This was in contrast to episodes of large alcohol intake, which were deemed for the most part inconsequential. A 2% rise in new-onset A-fib risk for every additional weekly gram of alcohol intake was observed.
Study author Dr Jong-Il Choi reflected that “recommendations about alcohol consumption have focussed on reducing the absolute amount rather than the frequency (…) Our study suggests that drinking less often may also be important to protect against atrial fibrillation.”