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Alcohol Use And The Heart: How Alcohol Affects The Heart

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Abusing alcohol can do far more damage than simply leaving a person with a bad hangover. Drinking more than the recommended amount can significantly increase a person’s risk for a number of heart problems. If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use or addiction, seeking help at a facility such as the many Vertava Health’ rehab centers can reduce the risk of cardiovascular conditions and other health problems.

Recommended Guidelines For Alcohol Consumption – How Much Is Too Much?

The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism has outlined the guidelines for “safe drinking” levels. They have also established the kind of drinking that is considered “high risk.” Staying within the “safe” limits of alcohol consumption or not drinking at all is the best way to prevent heart and other health conditions.

The following are the amounts of alcohol consumption that are considered safe:

  • Men — No more than 14 drinks per week and no more than four drinks per day
  • Women — No more than seven drinks per week and no more than three drinks per day

Drinking more than the recommended amount per day is classified as “binge drinking,” and consuming more than the weekly recommended amount is considered excessive alcohol consumption. Both binge drinking and heavy drinking can increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular problems.

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Drinking Can Increase The Risk Of An Immediate Cardiac Event

While moderate or “safe” alcohol consumption is certainly better than consuming large quantities of alcohol, it does not necessarily prevent potential heart and other health conditions. In fact, studies have found that any alcohol consumption can increase a person’s risk for an immediate cardiovascular event over the following 24 hours after drinking.

However, moderate drinking may also act as a protectant against cardiovascular events for the week following moderate alcohol consumption. A study found that moderate drinkers – or individuals that consume four or fewer drinks in one sitting – were up to 30 percent less likely to experience a hemorrhagic stroke or myocardial infarction in the seven days after drinking.

Conversely, heavy alcohol consumption can significantly increase a person’s risk for cardiovascular problems in the week following drinking. In fact, consuming 19 to 30 drinks in one week can cause a person to be up to six times more likely to experience a cardiovascular event within a week.

Cardiovascular Conditions That Can Be Caused By Alcohol Use

In addition to a short-term increase in the risk for a cardiovascular event, alcohol use can also wreak havoc on the heart in the long-term. Consuming large amounts of alcohol can cause chronic high blood pressure and increased heart rate. Additionally, alcohol use can weaken the heart muscles and cause irregular heartbeat. All of these factors can contribute to an elevated risk of heart problems.

The following are the cardiovascular conditions that can be directly caused by alcohol use:

  • Elevated Blood Pressure — Consuming alcohol in a single sitting can cause a temporary increase in blood pressure that will go back to normal after a short period of time. However, chronic alcohol use can result in alcohol-related hypertension. High blood pressure over an extended period of time can result in thickened arteries and significantly increase a person’s risk of heart attack and stroke.
  • Increased Heart Rate — Studies have shown that alcohol use can cause tachycardia or increased heart rate. Regularly experiencing tachycardia can cause blood clots that may lead to a heart attack or stroke.
  • Atrial Fibrillation — This condition is a form of arrhythmia that causes the atriums of the heart to beat abnormally. Alcohol use can result in long-term atrial fibrillation that can ultimately lead to blood pooling and clotting within the atriums. The blood clots caused by atrial fibrillation can break off and travel in the bloodstream, potentially getting stuck in a brain artery and causing an ischemic stroke.
  • Weakened Heart Muscles — Chronic alcohol use can cause the heart muscles to weaken and become damaged, a condition known as cardiomyopathy. This condition can eventually cause congestive heart failure.

All of these conditions can be caused or worsened by alcohol use. The longer a person uses alcohol, the more likely he or she is to experience one or many of these heart problems. Having any of these conditions can increase a person’s risk of a number of heart diseases.

Heart Diseases That Can Result From Alcohol Use

The heart conditions discussed in the above section can all increase a person’s risk of a number of different heart diseases. Regular alcohol use can significantly increase the risk of high blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, and weakened heart muscles, all of which can lead to heart disease.

Heart diseases that may develop as a result of alcohol use include:

  • Heart Attack — Regular alcohol consumption can increase fat levels in the blood. This, in turn, can result in high levels of bad cholesterol. Excess levels of bad cholesterol can clog the arteries of the heart, which may eventually result in clots that can cause a heart attack.
  • Stroke — Alcohol use can increase a person’s risk of both ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. Ischemic stroke occurs when the artery that supplies blood to the brain becomes blocked. A hemorrhagic stroke happens when the artery that supplies blood to the brain tissues bleeds or tears. Both types of stroke can occur as a direct result of alcohol use.
  • Heart Failure — Studies have shown that excessive alcohol consumption is linked to an increased risk of heart failure. Individuals who have 14 or more drinks a week are up to 10 percent more likely to experience heart failure, while people who have 21 or more drinks per week experience heart failure up 48 percent more than nondrinkers.

Chronic alcohol use can cause a number of heart conditions and can ultimately increase a person’s risk of alcohol-related death. Additionally, studies have shown that women are at an elevated risk of cardiovascular conditions as well as death caused by alcohol. Reducing or eliminating drinking is the best way to prevent potentially deadly heart problems.

Treatment Options For Alcohol Use And Addiction

Overcoming alcohol use or addiction is rarely an easy feat. Luckily, there are several treatment options available for individuals struggling with an alcohol use disorder. Vertava Health has several alcoholic treatment facilities that offer personalized plans of recovery for those looking to reclaim their lives from alcohol addiction.

To learn more about how alcohol can affect the heart or to explore addiction treatment options, contact an Vertava Health’ treatment specialist today.