Study Says Alcohol May Trigger Dangerous Palpitations
Q. One of my next-door neighbors is 81 and is trying to remain in his home, but he’s had some heart episodes during the past year. To me, the problems seem to coincide with the holidays, when he perhaps imbibes a bit too much while his family visits. His daughter, who lives a day’s drive away, is worried, so I shared my theory with her. We are curious: Do you think alcohol can kick off heart problems?
It is not out of the realm of possibility, if you take a look at recent research. A study of a clinical group with an average age of 59 builds a stronger link between alcohol consumption and serious heart palpitations in patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia. A study in 1978 first discovered such patients experiencing a common and potentially dangerous palpitation after excessive drinking.
The term “holiday heart syndrome” was coined after the 1978 study because excessive drinking is common during the winter holiday season. The symptoms usually went away when the revelers stopped drinking.
Now research from University of California, San Francisco builds on that finding, establishing a stronger causal link between alcohol consumption and serious palpitations in patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia. The researchers report that people with atrial fibrillation had almost a 4.5 times greater chance of having an episode if they were consuming alcohol than if they were not.
“One of the remaining big unknowns is why or how this happens,” said senior author Dr. Gregory Marcus, an assistant professor of medicine at the UCSF division of cardiology. “In a previous publication, we suggested that there was an effect on the electrical activity of the atrium that leads to these arrhythmias, but we do need additional studies to prove that.”
If your neighbor’s daughter is worried about her father’s ability to live alone, she might want to consider a Home Instead CAREGiverSM, who could help him with medication reminders and meal preparation, as well as light housekeeping, shopping, errands and companionship.