A DOCTOR has revealed why you should never drink alcohol on its own.
The cardiologist says you should follow each drink with a glass of water – not just to relieve a hangover, but a potentially fatal heart condition.
When you drink alcohol, it can cause changes in your heart rate, which could lead to a condition called atrial fibrillation (AF or AFib).
Already 1.4 million people in the UK live with AF, which is when the heartbeat is irregular and abnormally fast.
Its symptoms include dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness and, left untreated, it can lead to stroke or heart failure.
Studies show AF can be triggered by both binge drinking and daily drinking – as little as one beverage a day.
Doctors sometimes refer to the phenomenon as “holiday heart” because they see more cases of it around the holidays, when people overindulge in alcohol, Harvard Health reported.
A study published in the European Heart Journal found that people who enjoy one tipple a day – what doctors consider moderate – have a 17 per cent higher risk of AF.
The risk soared by 28 and 47 per cent for those who had up to two or four drinks a day, respectively.
Dr Suzanne Steinbaum, a cardiologist, told Well and Good: “Moderate to heavy drinking over an extended period of time may increase the risk of a dangerous type of irregular heartbeat in adults over 40 years of age.
“Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, occurs when the heart’s upper chambers beat irregularly and can increase stroke risk fivefold if left untreated.
“Studies have linked higher alcohol consumption to increased risk of AFib.”
Dr Steinbaum, an expert for the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women movement, said many people do not consume enough water when drinking alcohol.
She said: “If your heart rate increases after drinking, it is most likely due to dehydration.
“To help counteract this, make sure that you are staying properly hydrated when consuming alcohol.”
If you’ve been hydrating and you’re still feeling like your heart is pounding harder than usual, Dr Steinbaum adds that you can try to slow your heart rate by relaxing.
For people who already have AF, alcohol appears to have a nearly instant effect on their heart rhythm.
While AF can be persistent, in some patients it comes and goes, causing episodes that last minutes or hours.
And researchers have found that a single drink doubles the odds of a bout of AF occurring within the next four hours.
AF, which is thought to occur due to damage to the heart, can be the result of high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes and other factors.
The consumption of alcohol, no matter how much, wouldn’t be encouraged for these types of conditions.
It’s also risky for those with inherited heart rhythm conditions or cardiomyopathy.
Dr Steinbaum said: “If you have been diagnosed with high blood pressure, your doctor may advise you to reduce the amount of alcohol you drink.
“Reducing the amount of alcohol you consume can also help to prevent high blood pressure.
“If you do drink, limit your alcohol consumption to no more than two drinks per day for men and no more than one drink per day for women.”
But the British Heart Foundation says: “Overall, the risks far outweigh any possible benefits.
“The newest evidence suggests benefits for heart health of drinking alcohol are less and apply to a smaller group of the population than previously thought.
“The only group who might see some benefit overall in the UK is women over the age of 55, but even then only at low levels of drinking – around five units a week or less.”
How much alcohol per week is safe?
OFFICIAL guidelines recommend that both men and women should not drink more than 14 units of alcohol a week.
One unit is either 10ml or 8g of pure alcohol, which is meant to be the amount the average adult can process in an hour.
The number of units in a drink also depends upon its size as well as its strength.
A quick way of working out how many units in a drink is multiplying the strength of the alcohol by the volume in millilitres.
Then divide by 1,000 and it will give you the number of units.
For example wine at 12 per cent in a 750ml bottle would have ten units in it.
Other rough measurements include:
- Standard glass of wine – 2.1 units
- Pint of low strength beer – 2 units
- Pint of high strength beer – 3 units
- Bottle of lager – 1.7 units
- Can of lager – 2 units
- Alcopop – 1.5 units
- Single spirit and mixer – 1 unit
The guidelines suggest that you shouldn’t binge on all your weekly units in one go and that they should be spread across the week.
Experts say that, even though there is a recommended limit, no level of alcohol is “safe”. If you don’t drink, you shouldn’t start just because there is a 14-unit limit.