US researchers have tested possible triggers of a common heart condition, atrial fibrillation (AF), that affects more than one in 20 Australians over the age of 55.
The idea was to find ways for people with AF to avoid the risk of having an episode of this potentially stroke-causing heart arrhythmia.
The potential triggers included caffeine, eating a large meal, sleep deprivation and sleeping on the left side, which has been found to put pressure on the heart.
Most participants in the study expected caffeine to be a trigger, but it wasn’t – in fact, there’s evidence that caffeine protects against AF.
Alcohol was the consistent trigger
The researchers, from the University of California (San Francisco) found “that only alcohol use was consistently associated with more episodes of the heart arrhythmia”.
These researchers, in a separate study, found that “a single glass of wine can quickly – significantly – raise the drinker’s risk for atrial fibrillation”.
That study provides “the first evidence that alcohol consumption substantially increases the chance of the heart rhythm condition occurring within a few hours”.
“Contrary to a common belief that atrial fibrillation is associated with heavy alcohol consumption, it appears that even one alcohol drink may be enough to increase the risk,” said Dr Gregory Marcus, professor of medicine in the Division of Cardiology at UCSF, in a prepared statement.
Here’s the problem
According to the Heart Foundation, atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia in which your heart beats irregularly and often fast.
This reduces your heart’s ability to pump blood properly and increases the chance of a blood clot forming in your heart and travelling up to your brain, where it can cause a stroke.
The common symptoms of atrial fibrillation include: feeling breathless, feeling faint, dizzy or lightheaded, racing heart (palpitations), tiredness or weakness, chest discomfort and difficulty exercising.