One drink a day raises the risk of an abnormal heart rate, finds study

It might feel like the perfect way to wind down of an evening, but just one drink a day can raise the risk of an irregular heartbeat, a study has shown.

According to a report in the European Heart Journal, people who consumed as little as 12g of ethanol a day – equivalent to a 120ml glass of wine, 330ml beer, or 40mls of spirits – were 16 per cent more likely than teetotallers to develop atrial fibrillation.

The condition,  characterised by an irregular and often rapid heart rate, can cause dizziness and palpitations, as well as leaving people more prone to strokes.

The study showed that the risk of atrial fibrillation increased steadily with the amount participants drank, rising from 16 per cent for those who had one small drink a day, to 28 per cent for up to two drinks, and 47 per cent for those who drank more than four drinks.

Professor Renate Schnabel, a consultant cardiologist and co-author on the study at the University Heart and Vascular Center in Hamburg-Eppendorf, said the risk of developing an irregular heartbeat for those consuming a small glass of alcohol a day was small, but that people should still be aware of the risks.

“The take-home message is that in contrast to other cardiovascular diseases, even low and moderate alcohol consumption leads to an increased risk of atrial fibrillation,” she added.

“One of the bad things about atrial fibrillation is that it’s asymptomatic and can lead to other problems such as stroke. In many people, a stroke is the first manifestation of the disease.”

The researchers examined the heart health and drinking habits of 108,000 people aged 24 to 97 by combining records from Sweden, Norway, Finland, Denmark and Italy that stretched over 14 years.

Their analysis also confirmed the long-held belief that a small amount of alcohol protects against heart failure – where the heart is unable to pump blood around the body – with 20g of ethanol a day being optimum, just less than two small glasses of wine.

Schnabel added: “These findings are important as the regular consumption of alcohol, the ‘one glass of wine a day’ to protect the heart, as is often recommended, should probably no longer be suggested without balancing risks and possible benefits for all heart and blood vessel diseases, including atrial fibrillation.”

Alcoholics Anonymous helpline is open 24/7 on 0800 9177 650. If you would prefer, you can also email them at [email protected] or live chat via their website at

Drinkline, a free, confidential helpline for people who are concerned about their drinking, or someone else’s. Call 0300 123 1110 (weekdays 9am–8pm, weekends 11am–4pm).

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