Alcohol consumption and risk of incident atrial fibrillation in women

JAMA. 2008 Dec 3;300(21):2489-96. doi: 10.1001/jama.2008.755.


Context: Previous studies suggest that consuming moderate to high amounts of alcohol on a regular basis might increase the risk of developing atrial fibrillation in men but not in women. However, these studies were not powered to investigate the association of alcohol consumption and atrial fibrillation among women.

Objective: To prospectively assess the association between regular alcohol consumption and incident atrial fibrillation among women.

Design, setting, and participants: Participants were 34 715 initially healthy women participating in the Women's Health Study, a completed randomized controlled trial conducted in the United States. Participants were older than 45 years and free of atrial fibrillation at baseline and underwent prospective follow-up from 1993 to October 31, 2006. Alcohol consumption was assessed via questionnaires at baseline and at 48 months of follow-up and was grouped into 4 categories (0, > 0 and < 1, > or = 1 and < 2, and > or = 2 drinks per day). Atrial fibrillation was self-reported on the yearly questionnaires and subsequently confirmed by electrocardiogram and medical record review.

Main outcome measure: Time to first episode of atrial fibrillation.

Results: Over a median follow-up of 12.4 years, 653 cases of incident atrial fibrillation were confirmed. Age-adjusted incidences among women consuming 0 (n = 15,370), more than 0 and less than 1 (n = 15,758), 1 or more and less than 2 (n = 2228), and 2 or more (n = 1359) drinks per day were 1.59, 1.55, 1.27, and 2.25 events/1000 person-years of follow-up. Thus, compared with nondrinking women, women consuming 2 or more drinks per day had an absolute risk increase of 0.66 events/1000 person-years. The corresponding multivariate-adjusted hazard ratios (HRs) for incident atrial fibrillation were 1, 1.05 (95% CI, 0.88-1.25), 0.84 (95% CI, 0.58-1.22), and 1.60 (95% CI, 1.13-2.25), respectively. The increased hazard in the small group of women consuming 2 or more drinks per day persisted when alcohol intake was updated at 48 months (HR, 1.49; 95% CI, 1.05-2.11) or when women were censored at their first cardiovascular event (HR, 1.68; 95% CI, 1.18-2.39).

Conclusions: Among healthy middle-aged women, consumption of up to 2 alcoholic beverages per day was not associated with an increased risk of incident atrial fibrillation. Heavier consumption of 2 or more drinks per day, however, was associated with a small but statistically significant increased risk of atrial fibrillation.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural
  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / epidemiology*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / epidemiology*
  • Cohort Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Middle Aged
  • Proportional Hazards Models
  • Risk