Alcohol has adverse effects on the heart. Alcohol can induce a brief rise in heart rate and blood pressure when consumed. Drinking beyond the limits over time can lead to persistent higher heart rates, high blood pressure, weakened cardiac muscle, and arrhythmia.
Alcoholism raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases. A study of American men showed that those who consume one or more drinks per day have a 25 percent increased risk for coronary heart disease. The same study showed that men who consumed two or more drinks per day had a 50 percent increased risk.
What Counts as A Drink?
In the United States, a standard drink is defined as 14.0 grams of pure alcohol. This amount of alcohol is found in 12 ounces of regular beer with 5 percent alcohol content or 5 ounces of wine with 12 percent alcohol content. Generally, this means that a standard serving is considered one drink.
What Is Moderate Drinking, and How Much Should I Have?
Alcohol can be part of a healthy and happy life. Drinking in moderation means:
- Two drinks a day for men under age 65 (1 drink = 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits)
- One drink a day for women and people over age 65 (1 drink = 5 ounces of wine, 12 ounces of beer, or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits)
There are no hard and fast rules about how much alcohol is too much. But heavy drinking can lead to serious health problems, including heart disease.
How Does Alcoholism Raise the Risk of Cardiovascular Diseases?
Alcoholism raises the risk of cardiovascular diseases in several ways:
- Alcohol consumption can lead to high blood pressure and a rise in heart rate. This effect is not only short-term but can also persist over time.
- Heavy alcohol consumption can damage the heart muscle. The heart becomes so weak that it can lead to heart failure.
- Heavy alcohol consumption raises blood cholesterol levels and high triglyceride levels; both of these conditions increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
What Is the Short-Term Impact of Alcohol on The Heart?
Alcohol can lead to vasodilation of blood vessels. Blood vessels relax and expand, which causes a slight increase in blood pressure. Alcohol consumption can also induce a temporary rise in heart rate due to an acute stress response. If alcohol consumption is not limited, these effects can lead to persistently higher heart rates and blood pressure over time.
Alcohol has been shown to increase blood pressure by up to 40 points in some cases, and alcohol consumption is the most common cause of high blood pressure in Western countries. According to one study, alcohol consumption increases blood pressure levels by about five points for every 1.5 oz of alcohol consumed. But alcohol isn’t the only thing that affects your body’s ability to maintain healthy blood pressure exercise, weight control, stress levels and diet are all important considerations when managing your health!
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What Is the Long-Term Impact of Alcohol on The Heart?
Long-term alcohol consumption can induce persistent higher heart rates and blood pressure and damage to the heart muscle due to a build-up of fatty tissue. This is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or alcoholic heart disease, due to a lower oxygen supply to the heart muscle due to high blood pressure. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden death in alcoholics. Additionally, heavy drinking can raise blood cholesterol levels and high triglyceride levels; both of these conditions increase the risk of coronary heart disease.
Can I still drink if I have heart disease?
If you have heart disease, it’s essential to talk to your doctor about how much alcohol is safe for you to drink. They may advise you to limit or avoid alcohol altogether. Even if you don’t have heart disease, drinking in moderation is still a good idea. Too much alcohol can lead to other health problems, including liver disease and cancer.
Try to drink slowly and avoid drinking on an empty stomach if you do drink. Have a non-alcoholic drink between each alcoholic one, and make sure to have at least one or two alcohol-free days a week. There are many reasons to drink in moderation, including reducing your risk of heart disease. So if you’re a moderate drinker, keep it up! If you’re not, consider cutting back to improve your health. Your doctor can help you develop a plan that’s right for you.
How does alcohol affect the heart?
Heavy drinking can damage your heart in several ways. It can:
- Damage the heart muscle. Alcohol can weaken your heart muscle, leading to a condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
- Increase the risk of high blood pressure, damaging your arteries and leading to a heart attack or stroke. Alcohol can affect the way your body makes and uses insulin, which raises blood pressure. As long as you don’t have diabetes, this effect is temporary. If you have diabetes, it can raise your blood sugar levels too.
- It makes blood cells “stickier.” This makes it easier for clots to form in your blood vessels, which can cause a heart attack or stroke.
- Interring with the heart’s electrical system leads to an abnormal heart rhythm, i.e., arrhythmia or an irregular heartbeat. This can lead to a heart attack.
What Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is when the heart muscle becomes weak and enlarged due to long-term alcohol abuse. This can lead to heart failure, which is the inability of the heart to pump enough blood to meet the body’s needs. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is the most common cause of sudden death in alcoholics.
How is alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosed?
Several tests are used to diagnose alcoholic cardiomyopathy, including blood tests, echocardiograms (ultrasound imaging of the heart), and electrocardiograms (EKG or ECG). In addition to these medical tools, your doctor may ask you to take a breath test so they can measure your blood-alcohol level.
What causes alcoholic cardiomyopathy?
While the exact causes of alcoholic cardiomyopathy are unknown, we know that alcohol affects how the heart works and grows. For example, drinking too much alcohol over time puts stress on the heart by increasing the heart rate and blood pressure. This can lead to thickening of the heart muscle (hypertrophy) or enlargement (dilation). The thickening may cause the heart to work less efficiently, while the dilation increases the amount of blood that needs to be pumped throughout your body. These effects increase stress on both sides of the heart, leading to alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
What are the symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy?
The most common symptom is shortness of breath with light activity due to fluid build-up in the lungs (pulmonary edema). Other symptoms may include:
- Fatigue or weakness
- Dizziness or fainting
- Chest pain
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs
- Rapid or irregular heartbeat
What diseases can alcohol cause to the heart?
Alcohol can cause several diseases to the heart, including coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, and arrhythmia. These diseases can lead to serious health complications, including heart failure, stroke, and death. It is important to drink in moderation to protect your heart health. Additionally, it is essential to see a doctor if you experience arrhythmia symptoms.
What Is Coronary Heart Disease?
Coronary heart disease occurs when your arteries, which are blood vessels that bring oxygenated blood to your heart muscle, become clogged. When this happens, the heart muscle does not receive enough oxygen to perform its daily tasks. Coronary heart disease is also known as coronary artery disease or ischemic heart disease.
Can You Drink Alcohol if You Have Cardiovascular Disease?
Heavy drinking in people with cardiovascular diseases is not advisable because of increased risks of further complications and death. However, limited alcohol consumption is permissible and can even be good for the heart. Studies show that moderate drinking is associated with a reduced risk of coronary heart disease. Some studies suggest that women should drink one or two drinks per day and men should drink two to four.
What Is Arrhythmia?
Arrhythmia is an abnormal heart rhythm or an irregular heartbeat. This can lead to a heart attack, chest pain, or sudden death. Several things, including alcohol abuse, can cause arrhythmia.
What Are the Symptoms of Arrhythmia?
The symptoms of arrhythmia can vary depending on the type of arrhythmia. Common symptoms include a racing heart rate, chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. Arrhythmia can also cause dizziness and fainting. If you experience any of these symptoms, it is essential to see a doctor right away.
Arrhythmia is a severe condition and should be treated by a healthcare professional. Untreated arrhythmia can lead to heart failure, stroke, and even death.
What Is Atrial Fibrillation?
Atrial fibrillation is a type of arrhythmia or irregular heartbeat. In atrial fibrillation, the atria (upper chambers of the heart) quiver instead of contracting normally. This can lead to blood pooling in these chambers and an increased risk of clot formation. Clots can travel to the brain and cause a stroke.
Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of arrhythmia. It affects more than 2 million Americans each year. There is no cure for atrial fibrillation, but it can be treated with medications or surgery.
Can alcohol cause atrial fibrillation?
Alcohol can cause atrial fibrillation. Alcohol consumption can lead to a rise in heart rate and cause the atria to quiver instead of contracting normally. This can lead to blood pooling in these chambers and an increased risk of clot formation. Clots can travel to the brain and cause a stroke. It is best to avoid alcohol if you have atrial fibrillation. If you drink, do so in moderation and talk to your doctor about what is safe for you.
What Cardiovascular Diseases Can Alcohol Cause?
Heavy drinking can cause many cardiovascular diseases, including coronary heart disease, atrial fibrillation, and arrhythmia. These diseases can lead to several health complications such as:
- Heart attack is the number one killer of both men and women in the United States. Your heart’s ability to pump blood is dependent on oxygen. When your heart’s oxygen supply is restricted or stopped, it loses the capacity to pump blood effectively. The circulation of blood to the heart can be blocked due to a slow build-up of plaque, fat, and cholesterol in the coronary arteries, resulting in a narrowing.
Alcohol elevates blood fats. High triglycerides are associated with high harmful cholesterol levels and low amounts of good cholesterol. High quantities of bad cholesterol can obstruct arteries, causing a blockage that leads to a heart attack if another plaque fragment detaches and a clot forms.
- Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death in the United States. Alcohol use increases the chance of two types of strokes. Both cause a reduction in blood flow to brain tissue, resulting in a loss of motor (movement) and sensory (touch, temperature sensations) abilities. A stroke may also affect other systems in the body, including the skeletal, muscular, respiratory, digestive, and urinary systems.
- Ischemic stroke. An obstruction may form when an artery feeding blood to the brain tissue is blocked. A clot can develop in an artery and block it, or a foreign body (such as a fat globule) can detach and get trapped in the vessel, blocking it.
Alcohol consumption raises the incidence of ischemic stroke because it:
- Make a blood clot in the brain, caused by an abnormal heart rhythm or reduced heart muscle that has traveled to a vessel in the brain.
- Trigger high blood pressure. The high blood pressure from oxidative stress can constrict the brain’s blood vessels, potentially causing a foreign body-like plaque to detach, enter the circulation, and lodge in a brain vessel.
- Elevate the levels of fat (bad cholesterol) in the blood. Excess fat (bad cholesterol) in the blood may lead to a stroke if a clot forms in a blocked artery.
- Hemorrhagic stroke is potentially fatal because it results in severe, uncontrolled bleeding inside the brain.
Alcohol is a direct cause of hemorrhagic stroke if consumed in excess. The increased risk of hemorrhagic stroke is chiefly due to alcohol’s interference with clotting factors, leading to tissue damage and blood vessel rupture. A hemorrhagic stroke may also result from a clot that forms in one of the brain’s blood vessels but breaks away and becomes lodged in another vessel.
- Death from cardiovascular diseases is preventable.
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Symptoms of Cardiovascular Diseases
The symptoms of a heart attack can be different for men and women. The most common symptom for both sexes is chest pain or discomfort. The pain may feel like pressure, heaviness, fullness, or a burning sensation in the center of the chest. It may spread to the shoulders, neck, jaw, or arms. Other signs include:
- Sudden shortness of breath
- Nausea or vomiting
- Extreme weakness or fatigue
- Cold sweat
- Lightheadedness or dizziness
- Palpitations (a feeling that your heart is pounding or skipping beats)
The symptoms of a stroke can be different for men and women. The most common symptom is sudden numbness, tingling, weakness, or paralysis on one side of the body. Other signs include:
- Sudden confusion or trouble speaking
- Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
- Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, or loss of balance
- Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Robin has worked with chemical dependency/mental health for over 20 years. She is a certified addiction counselor (CAC) and a certified behavioral health technician (CBHT). Further, Robin has worked with over 17 combined facilities to aid/assist clientele with chemical dependency and acute /chronic psychiatric diagnoses. Her skill set is relapse prevention, chronic relapses, and crisis prevention.