"Holiday heart syndrome"

Munich (dpa) - Scientists have discovered an immediate link between alcohol consumption and an increased risk of heart rhythm problems, called arrhythmias. The research, carried out by German scientists and published in the European Heart Journal, is the first large investigation into cardiac arrhythmias immediately after drinking.

Previous, smaller studies have linked heavy drinking over a short period of time to "holiday heart syndrome," in which people without a history of heart problems develop arrhythmias and sometimes atrial fibrillation. The researchers, from the Munich University Medical Centre, tested 3,028 volunteers during the 16 days of the 2015 edition of the annual Oktoberfest celebration. Approximately 6 million visitors typically visit the festival each year, drinking about 7 million litres of beer. The volunteers, whose average age was about 35, were given smartphone-based electrocardiograms and breathalyzer tests.

Thirty per cent were found to have cardiac arrhythmias, and nearly 26 per cent had sinus tachycardia, or a rapid heartbeat. By comparison, a previous study put the rate of cardiac arrhythmias in the general population at between 1 and 4 per cent. "The more they had drunk, the more prominent the findings were," says Dr Moritz Sinner, who directed the study together with his colleague Dr Stefan Brunner. "In some cases there was also atrial fibrillation," Sinner adds. This is a condition that, over time, can lead to a stroke or cardiac insufficiency.

The average blood alcohol content (BAC) was 0.85 grams per kilogram (g/kg), and the range ran from zero to just under 3 g/kg, the maximum allowed by the study protocol. "A BAC of 3 g/kg borders on alcohol poisoning," Brunner says, adding that depending on the person's constitution, this equates to having drunk between 6 and 10 litres of beer.