Are you like me, do you enjoy having a cocktail or beer occasionally? Do we have to give up alcohol if we have atrial fibrillation? In this week’s Q&A session I discuss binge drinking vs. heavy drinking vs. moderate drinking and what afibbers must avoid. I also provide a tip that might help reduce the risk of afib episodes while drinking.
David writes, “I have paroxysmal AFib. I have a beer from time-to-time, but I’m wondering if I should stop drinking all together. I’ve heard that it can be bad for people with AFib. What are your thoughts?”
Well, David, if you’re a regular reader of my blog, you know that I used to be a heavy drinker. In fact, my first episode occurred after a night of heavy drinking. That was back on Father’s Day in 2006. Needless to say, ever since then, I have not been a heavy drinker.
I have continued to drink since then, but I am now a moderate drinker, and I’m not even sure I would be classified as a moderate drinker, because technically, according to the dietary guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is defined as men having two drinks a day or women having one drink per day. I certainly don’t drink even that much. When I drink these days, it’s typically on a Friday and/or a Saturday, and at most, I’ll have two drinks. And sometimes, if I’m going really crazy I might have three drinks. But that’s about the most that I will drink.
Now, there are no studies or research that provide any clues or insight on moderate alcohol consumption and its effects on AFib, whether it makes it worse, or whether you have more episodes, or it makes you go from paroxysmal AFib to persistent, or anything like that. And I think most doctors would agree that moderate alcohol consumption, even for AFibbers is probably okay, as long as it doesn’t trigger episodes for you. And that is the big issue with alcohol and AFibbers: does it or does it not trigger episodes?
If you have AFib, and you have a drink, and you have an episode, then obviously alcohol’s probably gonna be a no go for you. There are a lot of people that have AFib that can tolerate alcohol. I’m one of those. I can sit down, and have two, and even three drinks, and I don’t go into AFib. And I can tolerate different types of alcohol. I can drink beer, hard liquor, wine, and I’m fine.
Now, I will say, I do have palpitations when I drink (if I have more than two drinks). In fact, my PVCs and PACs will pick up quite a bit, and will flare up quite a bit after I have two or three drinks, but I never go into AFib, and I’ve never gone into AFib from drinking one to three drinks in a session. It really is an individual thing. Again, if you drink and you have episodes, then that’s probably not gonna work for you. But if you can tolerate alcohol, a drink or two, you’re probably gonna be okay.
Now, there are couple things though that I need to talk about here, and that is, different types of alcohol might have a different effect on you. For instance, you might be able to drink beer just fine, but if you drink red wine, boom, you go into AFib. Or you might be able to tolerate red wine just fine, but if you have hard liquor, you have an episode.
I guess what I’m trying to say is, if you try drinking and you go into an episode, if drinking is really important to you… And let’s face it, in social situations, a lot of us like to have a drink or two in social situations. If that’s really important to you, then try a different type of alcohol the next time you drink. If you had red wine and you had an episode, maybe next time, just try having a beer, and maybe like a light beer versus one of those heavy craft beers, just to see what happens. And if you tolerate that, okay, well, then you might be okay having an occasional beer.
The other thing though, I wanna talk about, is that’s a big no no for people with AFib, is binge drinking or heavy drinking. These are definitely no goes for AFibbers. So let’s define these different categories of drinking.
Binge drinking is defined as men drinking five drinks or more in a session, and women drinking four or more drinks in a session. That’s binge drinking. And binge drinking can lead to what’s called Holiday Heart Syndrome. And basically, what that means is, binge drinking, you have, again, if you’re a man, five or more drinks in a session, boom, you go into AFib, maybe not immediately, maybe the next morning, and you will develop, it’s just called Holiday Heart Syndrome, just basically means AFib from a session, or a night, or day of heavy drinking. That’s what happened to me back in 2006, that they probably would have classified that as Holiday Heart Syndrome.
Now, heavy drinking is, drinking for men, drinking three drinks or more on a daily basis, and women drinking two drinks or more on a daily basis. These types of drinking, binge drinking, heavy drinking, are a no go for AFibbers, because it can cause, probably, for most of us, it’s gonna cause us to go into AFib.
There’s an interesting article on everydayhealth.com and I’ll have a link to this article on my website, but they cited a study done by the Canadian Medical Association Journal in 2012. They found that for people with AFib, binge drinking is as harmful to the heart as heavy drinking on a regular basis. Again, just further emphasizing that binge drinking, heavy drinking, these are definitely two categories you don’t wanna play around with if you have AFib.
But again, moderate drinking, it’s probably gonna be okay for most people with Afib. But again, if you drink and you have an episode, then yeah, you’re probably gonna have to call it quits.
And just one other quick caution on drinking, I read on an article on WebMD that alcohol can raise your risk of bleeding if you’re on Warfarin or Coumadin. Now, the article didn’t reference the newer oral anticoagulants like Eliquis, and Xarelto, and Pradaxa. I don’t know what the effects of alcohol are on those types of blood thinners, but the bottom line is… I guess the main point is, if you are taking a blood thinner and you’re gonna be a moderate drinker, you might want to talk to your doctor about that just to make sure that there’s not going to be any issues with the alcohol and the prescriptions that you’re on.
And one other thing too, that you can do to reduce your risk of having Afib episodes when you’re drinking, is stay well hydrated. That’s very important. One of the things that I try to do… Or I don’t try, I do, whenever I’m drinking, whether I’m at home or I’m out, whatever, I try to match… I try to drink as much water as I am drinking alcohol.
If I’m somewhere, and let’s say I have a 20 ounce beer, I will try to have 20 ounces of water at the same time, or shortly after. I try to drink as much water as I’m consuming alcohol. And that’s especially important in the summer when you’re hot and sweaty because you’re even more prone to dehydration and electrolyte imbalances. It’s important that you stay well hydrated. Even if I go out with my wife and I have a cocktail, I will order a glass of water and I will drink as much water as that one cocktail just to stay well hydrated. That’s a tip that you’ll want to implement if you are going to be drinking while you have Afib.
So there you have it. I’m gonna have links to other resources that talk about alcohol and atrial fibrillation on my website, so if you visit my website again, www.livingwithatrialfibrillation.com, and in the search box, just search for alcohol and atrial fibrillation, this blog post should pop up. I’ll have a transcript of this audio, as well as the links to some of these other resources that I found on this topic.
And then, also, again, as always, if you have a question for me, contact me at livingwithatrialfibrillation.com/contact. And everybody that contacts me, I reply to every email I get, so you will get a personal reply or a personal answer from me, regardless of whether or not I feature your question on these Q & A audio sessions. There you go. David, I hope that answers your question. Thanks for listening and have a great day.
Other articles that discuss the topic of alcohol and atrial fibrillation:
- Atrial Fibrillation and Alcohol: Is It Safe to Drink?
- Does Alcohol Cause AFib?
- The Dangers of Alcohol and Caffeine for AFib
- Atrial Fibrillation and Alcohol
- Alcohol and Atrial Fibrillation: Questions, Conflicts and Choices…
- Holiday Heart Syndrome: What you need to know about holiday binge drinking