Ventricular Arrhythmias Can Follow Oktoberfest-Style Drinking

Peter Russell

April 27, 2017

MUNICH, GERMANY — Drinking large amounts of alcohol can increase the risk of developing cardiac arrhythmias, say researchers, based on their findings on drinkers attending the annual Munich Octoberfest in Germany[1].

The researchers from University Hospital Munich chose the Octoberfest as an ideal event to find heavy drinkers. In 2015, the year the research was carried out, 5.9 million visitors went to the festival and downed 7.5 million L of beer.

Over 16 days they enrolled 3028 participants who had each drunk various amounts over the course of a day. The average age was 35, and 70% of the volunteers were men.

Some of the festival-goers hadn't drunk any alcohol, while others had drunk the maximum amount allowed by the study rules, which was 3 g of alcohol per kg of blood.

They say that reaching that level of intoxication would require a person to drink between 6 and 10 L (10.5 to 17.5 pints) of beer, depending on their size, metabolism, and whether they had eaten beforehand.

Dr Stefan Brunner (University Hospital Munich, Germany) monitored heart activity using a portable electrocardiography system. Breath alcohol concentrations were recorded with a handheld breathalyzer.

The prevalence of arrhythmias in the general population is estimated at between 1% and 4%. However, the researchers found cardiac arrhythmias in 30.5% of the Munich beer drinkers. Among those with arrhythmias, 25.9% had sinus tachycardia.

The study found that the risk of arrhythmias increased in line with higher breath alcohol concentrations.

The researchers helped corroborate their findings by looking at the effect of alcohol consumption in 4131 people in a German health study who were habitual—but not heavy—drinkers.

Commenting on the results in an emailed statement, Dr Mike Knapton, associate medical director at the British Heart Foundation, says: "Using the Munich Octoberfest as a real-world laboratory is a unique approach and has given us an insight into how heavy drinking over a short space of time can increase people's chances of having an abnormal heart rhythm.

"However, longer-term follow-up is needed to confirm if this type of drinking has a lasting effect in giving people potentially life-threatening arrhythmias.

"Extensive research has shown that alcohol consumption is associated with a range of diseases, including heart disease and cancer. Our advice is to drink in moderation, or no more than 14 units of alcohol per week."

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