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Careful: Alcohol Linked to Heart Arrhythmias


Researchers in Germany conducted a study that has led them to the conclusion that getting drunk is correlated with heart arrhythmias, which are atypical heart rhythms. The researchers conducted the study in an atmosphere that was full of possible subjects to partake in such.

“Basically we were sitting over a beer or two, ironically, and talking about how to design a study about the relevance of alcohol consumption on heart rate,” tells Dr. Mortiz Sinner, who is an assistant professor of medicine at University Hospital Munich. “This was summer [2015], and Oktoberfest happens in the fall.”

Sinner and his colleagues quickly recognized that they could conduct their study during Munich’s Oktoberfest, which is an annual beer festival popular throughout Germany that attracts immense crowds of people who are fanatic about alcohol and drinking—especially beer.

After receiving all of the needed approvals, the researchers showed up at the festival armed with breathalyzer tests, electrocardiograms and their experimental question: How did drinking alcohol affect people’s heart rhythms?

For an extensive amount of time, doctors have been aware of the fact that alcohol consumption can lead to heart problems, particularly in people who drink large quantities. Studies conducted in the past have indicated that people who drink a lot of alcohol are commonly at risk for dying because of a cardiac arrest or suffering a stroke.

Sinner and his team of researchers were particularly intent on comprehending the underlying causes of holiday heart syndrome, which is a condition where people who binge drink suffer from potentially perilous atrial fibrillation. Although scientists have been studying the condition for decades, they are still unable to understand how the mechanisms of holiday heart condition truly function.

The scientists were pleasantly caught off guard in finding that many people at Oktoberfest were more than willing to participate in their study.

“If you go to a festival and you want to have a beer or two or more with friends, you don’t want to be bothered by scientists walking around doing funny experiments,” explains Sinner as he recounted what he and his team expected to be the most common answer from the crowd. “But the overall response was really positive,” he reveals.

“We provided them with the results of the breathalyzer test. That’s something they were really interested in,” he continues. The research team chose to not use subjects who were highly intoxicated because these individuals could not steadfastly provide them with consent to partake in the study.

Throughout the course of the 16-day festival, Sinner and his team gathered data on blood alcohol concentration and heart rate for a total of 3,028 people. This data was collected through the use of a smartphone-based breathalyzer and ECG instruments.

The average age of the participants in the study was roughly 35 years old. The average blood alcohol content was 0.85 g/kg, which is about equivalent to a BAC of 0.09 percent in terms of the U.S. blood alcohol measurement system.

To put this into comprehensive terms, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control, a man weighing 160 pounds would have to drink about four to five drinks to reach this BAC level if he was consuming one serving of alcohol per hour. In the U.S., a BAC of 0.08 percent is the cutoff for what is considered drunk driving.

Researchers discovered what they describe in the study as “a profound association of acute alcohol consumption with sinus tachycardia,” which is defined by Sinner as “increased heart rate with no justification.” The team additionally found that, while the heart rate usually varies as a person’s breathing rate changes, that ability diminished as people drank more.

Moreover, the data collected for the study supported the conclusion that the larger the amount of alcohol people had consumed, the greater the probability that they would experience both symptoms. This study was initially published in the European Heart Journal.

Sinner affirms that these exact symptoms are frequently experienced by people who have had a heart attack at a previous time, or who have experienced congestive heart failure. However, this study did not work to compile evidence to prove that any of its participants had any long-term heart damage as a result of their visits to Oktoberfest.

Thus, Sinner concedes that more research is required regarding the relationship between alcohol and the symptoms. Additionally, the smartphone ECG used was only done for a period of 30 seconds of heart data for each participant.

“We don’t know what happens to them 2 hours or 12 hours later,” Sinner reveals. In a follow-up study, his research team is planning on altering this aspect of the study to increase the data it provides; this is set to be carried out with the use of ECG monitors that attach to the chest for three days.

The conclusion of the current study, according to Sinner, is that it’s never an advisable idea to drink alcohol to excess. People who consume vast quantities of alcohol can also cause impairment of their livers and brains.

“Frankly, I do drink alcohol and I like it,” he admits, “but you need to put a limit on it. The more you drink, the more prominent the findings are. So it’s probably not a problem if you go drink a beer or two. But if you exaggerate it, it’s certainly not healthy anymore.”

Featured Image via Wikimedia.

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