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Drinking alcohol makes your heart race

More research needed to see if higher heart rate increases risk of heart rhythm disorder

Embargo: 18 March 2018 at 11:00 CET

Arrhythmias, General


Barcelona, Spain – 18 March 2018: The more alcohol you drink, the higher your heart rate gets, according to research presented today at EHRA 2018 Congress1, organized by the European Society of Cardiology.

Binge drinking has been linked with atrial fibrillation, a phenomenon called “the holiday heart syndrome”.2 The connection was initially based on small studies and anecdotal evidence from the late 1970s.

The Munich Beer Related Electrocardiogram Workup (MunichBREW) study was conducted by researchers from the LMU University Hospital Munich Department of Cardiology, supported by the German Cardiovascular Research Centre (DZHK) and the European Commission. It was the first assessment of the acute effects of alcohol on electrocardiogram (ECG) readings. The study included more than 3,000 people attending the 2015 Munich Oktoberfest.

ECG readings were taken and breath alcohol concentrations were measured. Age, sex, heart disease, heart medications, and smoking status were recorded. Participants were, on average, 35 years old and 30% were women. The average breath alcohol concentration was 0.85 g/kg. Increasing breath alcohol concentration was significantly associated with sinus tachycardia of more than 100 beats per minute in 25.9% of the cohort.3

The current analysis of the MunichBREW study looked in more detail at the quantitative ECG measurements in 3,012 participants. The researchers investigated the association between blood alcohol concentration and four ECG parameters: excitation (heart rate), conduction (PR interval, QRS complex), and repolarisation (QT interval).

Increased heart rate was associated with higher breath alcohol concentration, confirming the initial results of the MunichBREW study. The association was linear, with no threshold. Alcohol consumption had no effect on the other three parameters.

“The more alcohol you drink, the higher your heart rate gets,” said Dr Stefan Brunner, a cardiologist at the University Hospital Munich, Munich, Germany, who is one of the lead authors.

The researchers are currently investigating whether the increase in heart rate with alcohol consumption could lead to heart rhythm disorders in the longer-term.

Dr Moritz Sinner, another lead author, said: “We cannot yet conclude that a higher heart rate induced by alcohol is harmful. But people with heart conditions already have a higher heart rate, which in many cases triggers arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. So it is plausible that the higher heart rate following alcohol consumption could lead to arrhythmias.”

He added, “Most people in our study were young and healthy. If we conducted the same study in older people or heart patients we might have found an association between drinking alcohol and arrhythmias.”

The authors speculated that alcohol creates an imbalance between the sympathetic (fight or flight) and parasympathetic (rest and digest) nervous systems. They are currently investigating how it does this.

ENDS

Notes to editor

ESC Press Office
Tel: +33 (0) 4 89 87 24 83
Email: press@escardio.org

SOURCES OF FUNDING: Institutional funds, German Centre for Cardiovascular Research (DZHK), and the European Commission’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme [grant number 633196]: CATCH ME.

DISCLOSURES: None.

References and notes

1The abstract ‘Acute alcohol consumption and effects on cardiac excitation, conduction, and repolarization. Results from the MunichBREW Study’ will be presented during the session Arrhythmias general - The unusual and unexpected which takes place on 18 March from 11:00 to 12:30 in the Agora – Poster Area.

2Ettinger PO, Wu CF, De La Cruz C, Jr., Weisse AB, Ahmed SS, Regan TJ. Arrhythmias and the “Holiday Heart”: alcohol-associated cardiac rhythm disorders. Am Heart J. 1978;95:555–562.

3Brunner S, Herbel R, Drobesch C, Peters A, Massberg S, Kääb S, Sinner MF. Alcohol consumption, sinus tachycardia, and cardiac arrhythmias at the Munich Octoberfest: results from the Munich Beer Related Electrocardiogram Workup Study (MunichBREW). Eur Heart J. 2017;38(27):2100–2106. doi: 10.1093/eurheartj/ehx156.

About the European Heart Rhythm Association

The European Heart Rhythm Association (EHRA) is a branch of the European Society of Cardiology (ESC). Its aim is improving the quality of life and reducing sudden cardiac death by limiting the impact of heart rhythm disturbances. EHRA ensures the dissemination of knowledge and standard setting; provides continuous education, training and certification to physicians and allied professionals involved in the field of cardiac arrhythmias with a special focus on Atrial Fibrillation (AF) and Electrophysiology (EP). EHRA releases international consensus documents and position papers, it is a source of high-quality, unbiased, evidence-based, scientific information that promotes the quality of care for patients with AF. It also has a dedicated a website for patients: www.afibmatters.org

About the European Society of Cardiology

The ESC brings together health care professionals from more than 150 countries, working to advance cardiovascular medicine and help people to live longer, healthier lives.

Information for journalists attending EHRA 2018

EHRA 2018 will be held from 18 to 20 March in Barcelona, Spain, at the Fira Gran Via. The full scientific programme is available here

  • To register on-site please bring avalid press card or appropriate letter of assignment with proof of three recent published articles (cardiology or health-related, or referring to a previous ESC Event).
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