A study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reports that alcohol abuse raises the risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and congestive heart failure as much as other well-known risk factors (ie, hypertension, diabetes, smoking, and obesity).

Previous literature had suggested that moderate alcohol consumption may prevent heart attack and congestive heart failure, whereas even low to moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with increased incidence of atrial fibrillation. This research relied solely on self-reports of alcohol abuse which can be an unreliable measure. 

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In this study, lead author Gregory M. Marcus, MD, University of California – San Francisco, CA, and colleagues analyzed data of all California residents aged ≥21 years who received ambulatory surgery, emergency or inpatient medical care in California between 2005–2009.

Of the total 14.7 million patients in the database, approximately 1.8% (n=268,000) of patients had been diagnosed with alcohol abuse. After adjusting for other risk factors, alcohol abuse was linked to a 2.3-fold higher risk of congestive heart failure, a 2-fold higher risk of atrial fibrillation, and a 1.4-fold higher risk of heart attack. The increased risks were comparable in magnitude to other well-established modifiable risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity.

Researchers concluded that decreasing alcohol abuse may lead to significant reductions in heart disease. The study authors further deduced that eliminating alcohol abuse completely would lead to over 91,000 fewer patients with congestive heart failure, 73,000 less cases of atrial fibrillation, and 34,000 less heart attacks in the United States alone.

Dr. Marcus added, “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. These data pretty clearly prove the opposite.”

For more information visit jacc.org.