Despite many studies that suggest that light or moderate drinking can cut your risk of heart disease and stroke, drinking alcohol every day can increase your risk of atrial fibrillation. So over the christmas holidays, or during weddings, graduation or other occasions for celebration when people get stressed, eat more food and drink more, it is not uncommon for usually healthy individuals to develop episodes of atrial fibrillation – a condition sometimes called Holiday Heart.
To try and combat this, it’s important to understand how much you can safely drink whilst still being able to enjoy yourself.
The term holiday heart is misleading, as people with it will not be enjoying themselves! They are likely going to experience palpitations and shortness of breath. It gets its name because cases often occur during holiday times, or after weekends, when people tend to drink more alcohol.
Holiday Heart Syndrome tends to come on after episodes of heavy drinking. When this happens, your heart beats fast and irregularly, causing palpitations and making you feel tired and breathless.
Alcohol is a stimulant and, in large doses, can precipitate cardiac arrhythmias, or heart rhythm problems, typically atrial fibrillation. Heavy drinking over a long period of time can also weaken the heart muscle, which ultimately can cause heart failure. Atrial fibrillation increases the risk of clots forming inside the heart which can lead to stroke.
After you’ve been diagnosed, it’s usually OK to drink alcohol in moderation, although some people can find even a single glass of wine can precipitate an AF episode. It’s important to keep in mind is that different drinks contain different levels of alcohol. A single shot of spirit may not seem like much, but it can contain as much alcohol as two glasses of wine.
The best guideline to work with is that 1-2 drinks per day probably won’t lead to health problems, even if you already have AFib. However, exceeding more than 3 drinks per day is more likely to trigger an episode.
Even if you drink in moderation, it would be wise to take a few days off from drinking alcohol every week.
Your GP will be able to help you figure out if you should make any changes in your drinking and offer help and advice alone the way. If you are concerned about the risk of episodes AFib and AF related stroke due to drinking, you should seek advice from a specialist and read up about the condition so you can ensure you understand your risks.