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.
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.
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.”
Kistler added, “These electrical and structural changes may explain the propensity to atrial fibrillation in regular drinkers.”
He further said, “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.
Source: Daily Mail