Posted: Jan 13, 2019
Disturbing heart scans have revealed the damage regular drinking can inflict on the organ.
Evidence already exists to show that consuming too much alcohol boosts your risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.
And now scientists have found two glasses of wine a day is enough to damage the electrical signals which control the organ's rhythm.
Researchers have now released images showing the difference between the hearts of non-drinkers and those who consume 'moderate' amounts.
The amount of booze someone drinks is an 'important risk factor' for atrial fibrillation – an irregular heartbeat, the Australian experts say.
The condition raises the risk of having a stroke or heart failure, meaning drinking habits could signpost future heart problems.
The scans, produced by scientists at Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, show how well electricity travels through the atrium - where blood enters the heart.
Atrial fibrillation is a heart condition that causes an irregular and often abnormally fast heart rate.
A normal heart rate should be regular and between 60 and 100 beats a minute when you're resting.
You can measure your heart rate by feeling the pulse in your neck or wrist.
In atrial fibrillation, the heart rate is irregular and can sometimes be very fast. In some cases, it can be considerably higher than 100 beats a minute.
This can cause problems including dizziness, shortness of breath and tiredness.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common heart rhythm disturbance, affecting around 1million people in the UK and estimated to strike around 6million in the US.
It can affect adults of any age, but it's more common in older people. It affects about 7 in 100 people aged over 65.
All of the 75 volunteers who had scans taken were known to have atrial fibrillation. They were split into three categories, depending on how much they drunk.
Electrical signals are vital to the function of the heart because, controlled by nodes linked to the nervous system, they tell it when to contract and relax.
A healthy heart needs the signals to flow freely and regularly through undamaged tissue.
Hearts which are scarred, from drinking and other unhealthy habits, are less able to conduct the signal and therefore more likely to be out of time.
The scans show a non-drinker's heart as entirely pink, which represents healthy tissue through which full-strength electric signals can flow.
Whereas the heart of what the scientists called a 'moderate drinker' has large patches of scarring shown in green, where electrical signals are weaker.
Their idea of moderate drinkers in the study were the people who had between eight and 21 alcoholic drinks per week – 14 on average.
However, 14 drinks per week is far more than the NHS's recommended weekly limit of 14 units, which equates to nine glasses of wine or seven pints of beer.
Their idea of moderate drinkers in the study were the people who had between eight and 21 alcoholic drinks per week – 14 on average. However, 14 drinks per week is far more than the NHS's recommended weekly limit of 14 units, which equates to nine glasses of wine +4
Their idea of moderate drinkers in the study were the people who had between eight and 21 alcoholic drinks per week – 14 on average. However, 14 drinks per week is far more than the NHS's recommended weekly limit of 14 units, which equates to nine glasses of wine
A mother-of-three and self-proclaimed 'party animal' has cut down on booze because it left her with a burn-like rash and breathing problems.
Cass Bowman, 42, would drink an average of ten drinks on a night out - a mix of spirits, cider and lager.
But she began to suffer a mysterious reaction all over her body that would see her skin become red and blotchy as though she had been 'scalded'.
Mrs Bowen, of Barnsley, South Yorkshire, ignored her symptoms for two years, unable to give up the drink and her social life.
She eventually cut back when her nights out on the town left her short of breath and even struggling to speak.
Mrs Bowen claims doctors said she was allergic to ingredients in alcohol and not just intolerant, which is much more common.
Now, she is a fitness fanatic, running up to 18miles (30km) a week since regaining her health - but she fears she will have to give up alcohol altogether if her reactions ever return.
Even the 'mild' drinker – someone who has up to eight drinks in a week – has patches of tissue damage, though the scientists said it would not be a concerning amount.
The scans also showed how the hearts of drinkers conduct less electricity because of the build-up of scarring.
Lead researcher Dr Peter Kistler said: 'Regular moderate alcohol consumption, but not mild consumption, is an important risk factor for atrial fibrillation associated with lower atrial voltage and conduction slowing.
'These electrical and structural changes may explain the propensity to atrial fibrillation in regular drinkers.
'It is an important reminder for doctors who are caring for patients with atrial fibrillation to ask about alcohol consumption and provide appropriate counselling in those who over-indulge.'
Past studies of more than 800,000 people have discovered alcohol increases a person's risk of developing an irregular heartbeat.
However, there has been a lack of studies explaining exactly how alcohol can affect electrical currents.
The new study, published in the journal HeartRhythm, offers an explanation and opens the door to further research.
Heavy drinking has become one of the biggest causes of severe illness among the baby boomer generation, official figures showed last year.
Alcohol is now the sixth most common cause of disability among people in their 50s and 60s, up from 16th in 1990, Public Health England data revealed.
By Sam Blanchard
January 10, 2019
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