One tiny little drink a day can mess with your heartbeat

Two pints of Guinness being clinked in a toast
Photo: Artur Widak/NurPhoto (Getty Images)

Today in “ah, cripes” news: having one small alcoholic drink a day apparently raises your risk of developing an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to dizziness, palpitations, and maybe even stroke. Yes, wine-with-dinner squad, that means you.


According to a recent report in the European Heart Journal, people who consumed as little as 12 grams of ethanol a day—a 12-ounce beer, a four-ounce glass of wine, or 1.5 ounces of spirits—were 16% more likely to develop an irregular heartbeat, or atrial fibrillation, during the study. The study examined the heart health and drinking habits of 108,000 people aged 24 to 97 over the course of 14 years.

Does this negate the long-held belief that a little bit of booze protects against heart failure? No, not exactly. According to the study, the risk of heart failure is overall lower for people who drink small amounts than for those who drink heavily or those who abstain completely. But the study did show that the risk of atrial fibrillation rose steadily from 16% for those who had one small drink a day, to 28% for up to two drinks, and 47% for more than four drinks a day.

An irregular heartbeat may not sound like the worst thing in the world, but it can have serious consequences. The Guardian reports that people with atrial fibrillation are thought to have a 5% to 7% annual risk of stroke. It’s also important to note that booze consumption isn’t the only factor contributing to irregular heartbeat. Actually, your lifetime risk of developing atrial fibrillation ranges from about 23% to 38% depending on your health and lifestyle. Like with anything else, it’s important to weigh the pros and cons of your evening nightcap, especially if you have preexisting conditions that make heart problems more likely.



Isn’t light alcohol consumption as a whole good for your heart and blood system though?