July 27 (UPI) -- Younger adults who abuse alcohol are nearly 75% more likely to die after being hospitalized for an irregular heartbeat than those drinking moderately or not at all, according to study data announced Monday.
Those hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia, who also had clogged arteries, diabetes or were aged 45 to 54 years also were at increased risk for death, the researchers said.
"Alcohol abuse has harmful effects on physical health, leading to more illness and death in patients with heart problems," study co-author Dr. Rikinkumar S. Patel said in a press release.
In people with arrhythmia, the heart beats too slowly, too quickly or erratically, according to the American Heart Association. The condition can be a sign of underlying heart problems that disrupt the flow of electrical impulses through the organ.
Atrial fibrillation, or AFib, is the most common arrhythmia, and it affects up to 6 million people across the United States, the American Heart Association estimates.
Excessive alcohol use is known to cause the development of an arrhythmia, Patel and his colleagues said.
For the study, during the American Heart Association's virtual Basic Cardiovascular Sciences 2020 Scientific Sessions, researchers reviewed deaths among almost 115,000 people aged 15 to 54 years who were hospitalized for arrhythmia between 2010 and 2014.
The participants had been included in the Nationwide Inpatient Sample, a large database that contains information on more than 7 million hospital stays annually.
Nearly one in 10 of the patients included in the analysis also were diagnosed with alcohol abuse, which the researchers defined as drinking that causes problems at home, work or school, whether or not the person is considered physically dependent on alcohol.
When those under age 54 were hospitalized with an irregular heartbeat, those who abused alcohol were 72% more likely to die before being discharged from the hospital, the researchers said.
The study does not, however, prove a cause and effect relationship between alcohol abuse and death from irregular heartbeat -- and additional studies are needed to determine the impact of social alcohol use on risk -- they said.
"Physicians should educate patients with alcohol problems about their risk of hospitalization for arrhythmia and their increased risk of death," said Patel, a resident physician in the department of psychiatry at Griffin Memorial Hospital in Oklahoma.