A Randomized, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled Trial of Intravenous Alcohol to Assess Changes in Atrial Electrophysiology

JACC Clin Electrophysiol. 2021 May;7(5):662-670. doi: 10.1016/j.jacep.2020.11.026. Epub 2021 Jan 27.


Objectives: This study sought to identify acute changes in human atrial electrophysiology during alcohol exposure.

Background: The mechanism by which a discrete episode of atrial fibrillation (AF) occurs remains unknown. Alcohol appears to increase the risk for AF, providing an opportunity to study electrophysiologic effects that may render the heart prone to arrhythmia.

Methods: In this randomized, double-blinded, placebo-controlled trial, intravenous alcohol titrated to 0.08% blood alcohol concentration was compared with a volume and osmolarity-matched, masked, placebo in patients undergoing AF ablation procedures. Right, left, and pulmonary vein atrial effective refractory periods (AERPs) and conduction times were measured pre- and post-infusion. Isoproterenol infusions and burst atrial pacing were used to assess AF inducibility.

Results: Of 100 participants (50 in each group), placebo recipients were more likely to be diabetic (22% vs. 4%; p = 0.007) and to have undergone a prior AF ablation (36% vs. 22%; p = 0.005). Pulmonary vein AERPs decreased an average of 12 ms (95% confidence interval: 1 to 22 ms; p = 0.026) in the alcohol group, with no change in the placebo group (p = 0.98). Whereas no statistically significant differences in continuously assessed AERPs were observed, the proportion of AERP sites tested that decreased with alcohol (median: 0.5; interquartile range: 0.6 to 0.6) was larger than with placebo (median: 0.4; interquartile range: 0.2 to 0.6; p = 0.0043). No statistically significant differences in conduction times or in the proportion with inducible AF were observed.

Conclusions: Acute exposure to alcohol reduces AERP, particularly in the pulmonary veins. These data demonstrate a direct mechanistic link between alcohol, a common lifestyle exposure, and immediate proarrhythmic effects in human atria. (How Alcohol Induces Atrial Tachyarrhythmias Study [HOLIDAY]; NCT01996943).

Keywords: ablation; alcohol; atrial fibrillation; electrophysiology; lifestyle.

Publication types

  • Randomized Controlled Trial
  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • Blood Alcohol Content*
  • Cardiac Electrophysiology
  • Double-Blind Method
  • Heart Atria
  • Heart Conduction System
  • Humans
  • Pulmonary Veins*


  • Blood Alcohol Content

Associated data

  • ClinicalTrials.gov/NCT01996943