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Bad news for diet soda lovers: artificially-sweetened soft drinks may come with a heart-shaped price tag.

Published in the American Heart Association's journal CirculationArrhythmia and Electrophysiology, the new research out of a Shanghai teaching hospital suggests that there may be a link between regularly drinking significant amounts of diet soda and dangerously irregular heartbeats.

As the Mayo Clinic explains, atrial fibrillation, the medical term for irregular heartbeats, is associated with a group of symptoms that also include heart palpitations, fatigue, dizziness, and shortness of breath.

Looking at a database cohort of more than 200,000 patients, the team comprised primarily of endocrinology researchers at the Shanghai Ninth People's Hospital found that over a period of nearly 10 years, those who drank more than 2 liters of sodas with nonsugar sweeteners were significantly more likely to develop a-fib compared to those who drank fruit juice or regular soda.

Specifically, the study indicates that people who drank more than two liters of diet beverages per week were 20 percent more likely to develop a-fib than those who don't drink any — though the researchers struggled to explain exactly why it might cause the scary heart-related symptoms.

If you're thinking of switching back to regular soda, that's not a perfect solution either. The Shanghai researchers also found that drinking more than two liters per week of conventionally sweetened cola saw a 10 percent increase in a-fib symptoms.

When looking at the portion of the cohort that drank only pure, unsweetened fruit or vegetable juice, the researchers found something even more fascinating: they appeared to have an eight percent lower risk of developing irregular heartbeats than their soda-drinking counterparts.

While there's been lots of research looking into other negative health effects associated with diet sodas, Penn State nutritionist Penny Kris-Etherton pointed out in an interview with CNN that this appears to be the first looking at its association with a-fib.

"We still need more research on these beverages to confirm these findings and to fully understand all the health consequences on heart disease and other health conditions," Kris-Etherton, an American Heart Association contributor who didn't work on the study, told CNN. "In the meantime, water is the best choice, and, based on this study, no- and low-calorie sweetened beverages should be limited or avoided."

At the end of the day, drinking a bunch of diet soda is still probably not as bad for your heart as, say, excessive alcohol intake, but the risk is serious enough to take seriously — and to make those pure fruit juices look all the tastier.

More on heart health: Cannabis Use Linked to Higher Risk of Heart Attack and Stroke

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