A healthy living blog from Marshfield Clinic Health System

Alcohol can impact atrial fibrillation

Atrial fibrillation, sometimes referred to as “A-fib”, can be impacted by alcohol use. As one of the most common heart rhythm problems, A-fib puts you at risk of stroke and other problems.

alcohol use can impact atrial fibrillation

How atrial fibrillation affects the heart

The top two chambers of your heart are known as the “atria.” They pump blood into the larger bottom chambers, which pump blood to your lungs and the rest of your body. In A-fib, your heart beats abnormally and the top chambers stop pumping blood as strongly as normal.

“When someone is experiencing A-fib, upper chambers of the heart begin to beat very rapidly, potentially up to 300-400 times per minute,” said Dr. Param Sharma, a Marshfield Clinic Health System cardiologist. “A normal heart rate would be about 60-70 beats per minute.”

When the upper chambers of the heart beat rapidly, the lower chambers also may beat faster. As that happens, heart palpitations and shortness of breath are possible. If a rapid heartbeat continues long-term, heart failure and heart muscle weakness could occur, Dr. Sharma said.

What to do if you’re concerned

Some people with A-fib have no symptoms. When symptoms do happen, they can include:

  • Feeling as though your heart is racing, skipping beats or beating out of sync
  • Mild chest “tightness” or pain
  • Feeling lightheaded, dizzy or like you might pass out
  • Having trouble breathing, especially with exercise

If you’re concerned you might be experiencing atrial fibrillation, take your pulse to see if you have an elevated heart rate. If you believe you could be having an episode, go to the emergency department immediately. An electrocardiogram can confirm whether you are having atrial fibrillation.

“For some patients, arrhythmia may subside within a short period of time,” Dr. Sharma said. “Risk of stroke may be increased though, even if the arrhythmia goes away.”

Medication can slow down a rapid heartbeat. In other cases, cardioversion, which is an electric shock, may correct the heartbeat.

Alcohol in moderation

Recent research suggests that even a drink or two of alcohol is associated with much higher odds of an episode of atrial fibrillation in the next four hours. Furthermore, five drinks or more is especially concerning.

“Alcohol in high quantities clearly leads to damage of the heart muscle,” Dr. Sharma said. “It’s important to drink in moderation.”

If you are concerned about A-fib, talk a Marshfield Clinic Health System provider.

Schedule an appointment Message your provider

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