A new study suggests that people who abuse alcohol also boost their risk of three cardiac conditions: atrial fibrillation, heart attack and congestive heart failure.
The possible added risk appears to be about the same as that linked to high blood pressure, smoking, obesity and diabetes, the researchers said.
“We found that even if you have no underlying risk factors, abuse of alcohol still increases the risk of these heart conditions,” lead researcher Dr. Gregory Marcus said in an American College of Cardiology news release.
Marcus is director of clinical research at the University of California, San Francisco’s division of cardiology.
The study was based on a database of close to 15 million Californians aged 21 and older who had outpatient surgery, emergency room treatment or inpatient hospital care between 2005 and 2009. About 2 percent had been diagnosed with alcohol abuse.
The researchers adjusted statistics so they wouldn’t be thrown off by various other risk factors. They found that alcohol abusers were twice as likely to have atrial fibrillation; 1.4 times more likely to have a heart attack; and 2.3 times more likely to have congestive heart failure than other people.
The study did not prove that alcohol abuse directly caused these risks to rise, however.
Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity are thought to boost the risk of these cardiac conditions by similar degrees, the researchers said.
“We were somewhat surprised to find those diagnosed with some form of alcohol abuse were at significantly higher risk of a heart attack,” Marcus said.
“We hope this data will temper the enthusiasm for drinking in excess and will avoid any justification for excessive drinking because people think it will be good for their heart. These data pretty clearly prove the opposite,” he added.
He suggested the new research may be more reliable than previous findings.
“The great majority of previous research relied exclusively on self-reports of alcohol abuse,” Marcus said. “That can be an unreliable measure, especially in those who drink heavily. In our study, alcohol abuse was documented in patients’ medical records.”
It’s not clear, though, how much the participants in this study drank.
The findings were published Jan. 2 in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
For more about alcohol and the heart, try the American Heart Association.