Researchers study how alcohol affects arrhythmias
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Researchers study how alcohol affects arrhythmias

Researchers working at the Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, have found that higher breathalyser readings translate into a greater likelihood of having arrhythmias, particularly sinus tachycardia.

Investigators said that the ability to measure heart-rhythm changes during drinking offered unique insights into just how alcohol may disturb autonomic balance, potentially paving the way for more serious arrhythmias beyond the exposure period.

Among attendees of the 2015 festival, an increase of 1kg in breath alcohol concentration was associated with an elevated risk of overall cardiac arrhythmias detected by a smartphone-based device, according to the study.

An increase in heart rate isn’t always a bad thing, but “what you don’t want to have is sinus tachycardia without a good reason for it [and in this case] because of toxic effects of alcohol”, senior author Moritz Sinner, University Hospital Munich, said.

Sinner said he didn’t expect people to stop drinking alcohol because of the study, however, it enhances further understanding of how arrhythmias develop, he said.

Overall, 30.5% of participants had any cardiac arrhythmia, which included sinus tachycardia, sinus arrhythmia, premature atrial or ventricular complexes, or atrial fibrillation/flutter. Sinus tachycardia was the most common (25.9%).

“The remarkable thing was that, despite this baseline elevated heart rate, it further went up and up and up the more alcohol these individuals had in their breath,” Sinner said.

The researchers also found that respiratory sinus arrhythmia – a marker of balanced autonomic tone – became increasingly less likely to be found with greater alcohol consumption.

“Additional research,” Sinner says, “is warranted to investigate if autonomic imbalance constitutes the link between sinus tachycardia and the occurrence of arrhythmias like atrial fibrillation, as implicated by reports of the so-called ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’.”

The study will be published in the European Heart Journal.