A new study published in The Journal of the American College of Cardiology has found that alcohol abuse could increase your risk of atrial fibrillation, heart attack, and congestive heart failure just as much as other risk factors, such as smoking.

The University of California, San Francisco, research team analyzed information from a database of all California residents ages 21 and older. Between 2005 and 2009, all 14.7 million of these participants received ambulatory surgery, emergency, or inpatient medical care in California, according to a news release.

Of these participants, 1.8 percent — or approximately 268,000 — had been diagnosed with alcohol abuse. Researchers discovered that the increased heart health risks were just as detrimental as more established risk factors such as diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity. Eliminating alcohol abuse would result in about 73,000 fewer atrial fibrillation cases, 34,000 fewer heart attacks, and 91,000 fewer congestive heart failure patients in the United States, the team estimated, according to the release.

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"We were somewhat surprised to find those diagnosed with some form of alcohol abuse were at significantly higher risk of a heart attack," said lead researcher Gregory M. Marcus, MD, in the release.

"We hope this data will temper the enthusiasm for drinking in excess and will avoid any justification for excessive drinking because people think it will be good for their heart. These data pretty clearly prove the opposite,” he explained.

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Heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Each year, about 610,000 Americans are casualties of heart disease, which is about 25 percent of overall deaths in the country.

Source: Whitman IR, Agarwal V, Nah G, Dukes JW, Vittinghoff E, et al. Alcohol Abuse and Cardiac Disease. Journal of the American College of Cardiology. 2016.

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