Even one alcoholic drink a day may increase the risk for atrial fibrillation.

Atrial fibrillation is an intermittently irregular and rapid heart rate that can increase the risk for heart failure, stroke and other cardiovascular problems. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the condition accounts for 450,000 hospitalizations and contributes to about 158,000 deaths annually.

Researchers tracked health and drinking patterns of 100,092 men and women free of atrial fibrillation at the start of the study. They followed them for an average of 14 years, documenting 5,854 new cases of the condition. The study is in the European Heart Journal.

Having one small drink a day — about four ounces of wine, 11 ounces of beer or 1.3 ounces of spirits — was associated with a 16 percent increased relative risk for atrial fibrillation compared with abstaining. At two drinks a day, the increased risk was 36 percent; and at four daily drinks, a 59 percent increased risk.

The study controlled for hypertension, diabetes, smoking and other health factors. The association with modest drinking was independent of these variables.

“There are data that show that regular low consumption of alcohol is not harmful,” said the senior author, Dr. Renate B. Schnabel, an internist at the University Medical Center Hamburg-Eppendorf in Germany. “But if you are at risk for atrial fibrillation, drinking should be reduced as much as possible.”

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