Link between alcohol consumption and cardiac arrhythmias found in drinkers at the Munich Octoberfest

  • by Doreen Haase - Fri, 2017-06-09 09:01

CATCH ME researcher Moritz Sinner and his colleague Stefan Brunner, both assistant professors of medicine from the Department of Medicine I at the Ludwig-Maximilians University Hospital Munich (Munich, Germany) and the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK) studied 3,028 beer drinkers at the Munich Octoberfest 2015 and found that the more alcohol they consumed the higher was the likelihood of developing abnormal heart rhythms called cardiac arrhythmias.

The results of this MunichBREW (Munich Beer Related Electrocardiogram Workup) study were published in April 2017 in the European Heart Journal and are in particular  important because it is thought that arrhythmias under certain circumstances lead to atrial fibrillation, an irregular heart beat that in the long run can result in serious consequences such as heart failure and stroke.

Heavy drinking over a short period of time has been linked to “Holiday heart syndrome” in which people without any previous history of heart problems develop arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation, but the evidence for this so far was inconclusive.

The MunichBREW study is the first link between acute alcohol consumption and cardiac arrhythmias in a large number of people in a prospective fashion i.e. examining them as they were drinking. The voluntary participants of the study had drunk various amounts of alcohol throughout the day, ranging from none to the maximum amount allowed by the study protocol of three grams of alcohol per kilogram of blood (3g/kg). The researchers carried out electrocardiogram (ECG) recordings using a portable, smart phone-based device and measured the breath alcohol concentrations with a handheld breathalyser.

While the prevalence of arrhythmias in the general population is estimated at between 1%-4%, in this study, the researchers found cardiac arrhythmias in 30.5% of the participants and 25.9% of these arrhythmias were sinus tachycardia, where the heart beats at a higher than normal rate. Breath alcohol concentrations were linked with a significantly increased risk of cardiac arrhythmias; for one gram of alcohol per kilogram of blood the likelihood of a cardiac arrhythmia increased by 75%.

Figure taken from “European Heart Journal (2017) 0, 1–7 doi:10.1093/eurheartj/ehx156”

“It is very well known that atrial fibrillation in a subset of patients develops when the patient has sinus tachycardia induced by autonomic imbalance,” said Dr Sinner. “Our study was not able to prove the ‘Holiday heart syndrome’ prospectively, but it will help clinicians and researchers better understand the disordered physiology associated with the condition and we have laid the ground for further research on the subject.”

The researchers also looked at the effect of chronic alcohol consumption in the KORA S4 study (Co-operative Health Research in the Region of Augsburg) in 4,131 participants recruited from the general population, where they were able to confirm the association, yet with an attenuated effect.

The research was supported by the Stiftung Biomedizinische Alkoholforschung, by the German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), and by the European Commission.
The title photo of the team at the Octoberfest was provided by Moritz Sinner.