People who drank as few as one or two alcoholic drinks a day had a 14% increased risk of the condition, which raises the risk of a stroke, a study of almost 80,000 adults in Sweden found.
The researchers linked wine and strong spirits to a risk of developing AF, but not beer, even in binge
Lead author Susanna Larsson from the Karolinska Institutet in Stockholm said this might be because beer is consumed more regularly during the week, whereas stronger drinks tend to be consumed only at the weekend.
‘Adverse effects of alcohol on AF risk may be less pronounced if alcohol consumption is spread out over the week, compared with consumption of larger amounts of alcohol during a few days per week,’ she said.
Ms Larsson added that any benefits of alcohol to heart health, including reduced risk of heart disease and stroke as reported in previous studies, should be balanced against the potential increased risk of AF.
Bingeing increases AF risk by half
In the study, researchers examined responses from 79,019 adults aged 45-83 years to a questionnaire about their eating and drinking habits, undertaken in 1997. They then tracked the patients across 12 years, in which time 7,245 cases of AF developed.
Matching these cases to alcohol consumption showed that in line with previous studies, people who drank three or more alcoholic drinks per day increased their risk of AF by up to 39%. But unlike previous research, they also found moderate intake of one to three drinks of wine or spirits per day also raised AF risk.
Once combined with data from previous studies, the figures showed an 8% increased risk of AF for each additional drink per day.
Binge drinking five or more drinks per day was linked to a 47% increased risk of developing AF.
The study authors warned that these findings did not necessarily mean alcohol causes AF. However, previous research had shown an effect of alcohol on heart function, cardiac abnormalities and dilated cardiomyopathy with supra-ventricular arrhythmias, which could lead to AF.