Heavy drinking linked to heart change, Oktoberfest study finds

Drinking heavily over a short period of time can significantly boost the risk of an abnormal heart rhythm, even in healthy people, new German research suggests.

The finding stems from a study done at Munich’s Oktoberfest, a long-standing Bavarian beer festival held every autumn. Over a 16-day period in 2015, researchers tracked the heart health and drinking patterns of a group of more than 3,000 men and women.

The investigators found that nearly a third of the group experienced an abnormal heart rhythm — or “cardiac arrhythmia” — at some point during the festival, a much higher percentage than usually seen among the general population.

What’s more, investigators calculated that, for every additional gram of alcohol consumed per kilogram of blood (above zero), arrhythmia risk rose by 75 percent.

Study co-author Dr. Moritz Sinner, an assistant professor of medicine at University Hospital Munich, said that even though the phenomenon is well-known, the findings are “remarkable.”

“For the first time we were able to demonstrate that alcohol has an immediate effect on the heart rhythm,” he said.

He noted that this is the first study to track drinking and its impact on heart rhythms while participants were actually drinking, compared to other studies in which people try and recall their drinking behavior.

Sinner and his colleagues published their findings April 26 in the European Heart Journal.

Dr. Gregg Fonarow, director of the Ahmanson-UCLA Cardiomyopathy Center in Los Angeles, expressed little surprise at the findings.

“It is well-documented that alcohol consumption can increase the likelihood of having arrhythmias,” he noted, adding that the phenomenon has actually given rise to a label — “holiday heart syndrome.”

According to the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, a cardiac arrhythmia is essentially an electrical disruption to the normal workings of the heart, in which the heart muscle beats excessively fast, too slow or irregularly. In most cases it is…

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