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Clinical Articles, Lead Article

Even moderate alcohol consumption increases AF risk in CV patients

Moderate alcohol consumption could result in an increased risk of atrial fibrillation (AF) in patients with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and progressive diabetes, according to a study1 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.

Researchers led by Dr Koon Teo (McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario) analysed results from a trial of more than 30,000 people, from 40 different countries, with previous cardiovascular (CV) illness and advanced diabetes with organ damage. All patients were over 55.

Data were taken from the ONTARGET or TRANSCEND studies, which took place from November 2001–May 2004, with a 56 month follow-up period. Of all subjects included, 61.7% reported having one drink per week at most.

36.6% reported moderate consumption, while 1.7% reported high consumption (more than two drinks every day for women, and more than three for men, according to World Health Organization guidelines).

The follow-up period found 2,093 new AF cases. The age- and sex- standardised incidence rate for 1,000 persons-years was 14.5 for low consumption individuals, 17.3 with moderate consumption, and 20.8 in the high consumption group.

Man Serving Champagne To His Guests At A Dinner PartyThe authors said: “Moderate to high alcohol intake was associated with an increased incidence of AF among people aged 55 or older with CVD or diabetes. Among moderate drinkers, the effect of binge drinking on the risk of AF was similar to that of habitual heavy drinking”.

They added: “Because drinking moderate quantities of alcohol was common in our study (36.6% of the participants), our findings suggest that the effect of increased alcohol consumption, even in moderate amounts, on the risk of AF among patients with existing CVD may be considerable.”

“Recommendations about the protective effects of moderate alcohol intake in patients at high risk of CVD may need to be tempered with these findings,” the authors concluded.


1. Liang Y, Mente A, Yusuf S, et al. Alcohol consumption and the risk of incident atrial fibrillation among people with cardiovascular disease. CMAJ 2012.

Published on: November 15, 2012

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