Many people like to have an alcoholic drink as a way to wind down, whether socially or relaxing at home. While drinking alcohol occasionally or in moderation is something that many people enjoy as part of their lifestyle, drinking excessively is extremely harmful to your general health and wellbeing.
What is the effect of alcohol on your heart? Alcohol is a depressant drug which means that it slows down your brain’s control over your body. Frequently drinking too much alcohol can provoke heart arrhythmias, especially atrial fibrillation, and can depress the heart muscle, leading to heart failure. It can also increase your blood pressure (i.e. provoke hypertension).
Furthermore, as alcohol is high in sugar, it can also lead to weight gain which in turn increases the workload for your heart. Weight gain can also lead to diabetes and other complications.
If you are diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, and you are someone who enjoys a glass or two, then you may wish to consider adjusting your alcohol consumption.
Giving up alcohol
Although it may be tempting to use alcohol as a coping mechanism or a way to destress (particularly if you have received distressing news), it would be far better to find another way of relaxing and unwinding. For example, deep breathing exercises, stretching, yoga or Pilates.
If you feel able, it is best to give up alcohol while your heart condition is being managed. If you don’t feel able to do this, then you should aim to reduce your alcohol consumption at the very least.
If you miss the taste of alcohol or the ritual or “having a glass to unwind”, then why not try some alternatives to your regular tipple, such as alcohol-free beer and wine or “mocktails”?
Many supermarkets now stock a wide range of alcohol-free beverages and you can find a wide range of delicious recipes for mocktails (or non-alcoholic cocktails) online. If giving up alcohol is difficult for you and you live with other people, such as a partner, close friends or family, you could ask them to support you by joining you in giving up or reducing alcohol consumption for a while. You can also speak to your family doctor about services in your area that support drinking cessation.
If your heart arrhythmia can be resolved through medication or procedures known as cardioversion or ablation, then you can still drink either in moderation or not at all.
To find out more about these procedures, click on the link to the following pages:
Alcohol consumption guidance
Current medical guidance suggests that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week (around 6 pints of average-strength beer, 10 small glasses of low-strength wine or 14 single measures of spirits).
If you do wish to continue drinking once your heart condition is resolved or under control, then ensure that you do so responsibly and as part of a healthy, balanced diet and active lifestyle.
In most instances, patients with atrial fibrillation must take a blood thinner (or anticoagulant) to prevent stroke. If you are prescribed a blood-thinning medication such as warfarin, heparin, apixaban, dabigatran, edoxaban or rivaroxaban for atrial fibrillation, you may also be advised by your doctor to reduce your consumption of alcohol or to stop drinking altogether.
This is because alcohol interacts with anticoagulant medications, making them less or indeed overly effective. The consumption of alcohol can also cause your body to produce fewer platelets (the blood cells that allow your blood to clot), thus increasing the anticoagulant effect of warfarin, leading to the risk of bleeding either internally or externally.