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Addiction to alcohol increases risk of heart failure

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Dr. Balbir Singh
While poor lifestyle remains one of the major factors affecting the population in terms of their overall well-being, bingeing on alcohol has been attributed as the leading risk factor of atrial fibrillation among asymptomatic healthy adults.
Being the most common type of irregular heartbeat, Atrial fibrillation (Arrhythmia) has the maximum potential to form blood clots leading to stroke, heart failure and other cardiac related complications. During AF, the heart’s two upper chambers (the atria) beat frenziedly and irregularly, which makes them go out of coordination with the two lower chambers (the ventricles) of the heart.
A major concern with atrial fibrillation is the potential to develop blood clots within the atria and these blood clots may circulate to other organs and lead to blocked blood flow also known as ischemia. If a clot breaks off, enters the bloodstream and lodges in an artery leading to the brain, it results in a stroke. About 15–20% of people who have strokes have AF and in extreme cases, atrial fibrillation can also lead to heart failure.
Atrial fibrillation is a rhythm disorder of the heart which has several ill effects on the body including heart failure and brain strokes and is associated with significantly higher morbidity and mortality. Though alcohol consumption and heart health have generated conflicting views in the past, including the notion that moderate drinking may be protective, but the latest data does not support this view.
It is proven that even moderate amount of alcohol consumption produces higher incidences of atrial fibrillation and binge drinking makes the condition worst. Thus, I would like to appeal to the youth of this country not to addict themselves to alcohol. There is a dire need for the society to understand and avoid regular or binge drinking as it has several ill effects on the heart.
Various studies have illustrated the ill effects of alcohol consumption on the heart health. In the West, AF sets in by the time people are in their 60s, whereas in India the average age is 55 years. In case of people with diabetes and hypertension may get it earlier.
Recently published study in the Medical Journal Heart rhythm from Korea focuses on the effects of alcoholism and risk of atrial fibrillation. A total of around 20,000 individuals were studied with 13000 of them being drinkers for 5 years and it was noted that over 200 developed atrial fibrillation and 60 of them succumbed due to heart attack.
The risk factor for heart ailments among drinkers were four folds higher in comparison to non-drinkers. The study being dose dependant, individuals with higher intake of alcohol had worst outcomes and the risk was highest among frequent and binge drinkers.
In medical terms alcohol is a toxic substance with recreational and dependence producing properties. Alcohol could cause these adverse effects by direct toxicity to the heart or through indirect effects such as sleep apnea, obesity and hypertension. Some other studies have shown that even drinking moderate amounts could be a risk factor for the development of atrial fibrillation. The effects of alcohol could differ in men and women with risk increasing more abruptly in men than women probably due to more alcohol consumed by men than women.
(The author is Chairman and Head, Cardiology, Max Hospital Saket, New Delhi)


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