Alcohol and vagal tone as triggers for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation

Am J Cardiol. 2012 Aug 1;110(3):364-8. doi: 10.1016/j.amjcard.2012.03.033. Epub 2012 Apr 20.


Alcohol and vagal activity may be important triggers for paroxysmal atrial fibrillation (PAF), but it remains unknown if these associations occur more often than would be expected by chance alone because of the lack of a comparator group in previous studies. We compared self-reported frequency of these triggers in patients with PAF to those with other supraventricular tachycardias (SVTs). Consecutive consenting patients presenting for electrophysiology procedures at a single university medical center underwent a structured interview regarding arrhythmia triggers. Two hundred twenty-three patients with a documented arrhythmia (133 with PAF and 90 with SVT) completed the survey. After multivariable adjustment, patients with PAF had a 4.42 greater odds (95% confidence interval [CI] 1.35 to 14.44) of reporting alcohol consumption (p = 0.014) and a 2.02 greater odds (95% CI 1.02 to 4.00) of reporting vagal activity (p = 0.044) as an arrhythmia trigger compared to patients with SVT. In patients with PAF, drinking primarily beer was associated with alcohol as a trigger (odds ratio [OR] 4.49, 95% CI 1.41 to 14.28, p = 0.011), whereas younger age (OR 0.68, 95% CI 0.49 to 0.95, p = 0.022) and a family history of AF (OR 5.73, 95% CI 1.21 to 27.23, p = 0.028) each were independently associated with having vagal activity provoke an episode. Patients with PAF and alcohol triggers were more likely to have vagal triggers (OR 10.32, 95% CI 1.05 to 101.42, p = 0.045). In conclusion, alcohol consumption and vagal activity elicit PAF significantly more often than SVT. Alcohol and vagal triggers often were found in the same patients with PAF, raising the possibility that alcohol may precipitate AF by vagal mechanisms.

Publication types

  • Comparative Study
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking / adverse effects*
  • Atrial Fibrillation / etiology*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Precipitating Factors
  • Self Report
  • Tachycardia, Paroxysmal / etiology*
  • Vagus Nerve / physiopathology*