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  • While alcohol can even be harmful in cases of moderate drinking, chronic alcohol abuse does last damage to the human body and many different organs and systems within it, including the heart and cardiovascular system

    Cardiomyopathy, a serious and often deadly heart muscle disease, is one such condition.

    What Is Alcohol-Related Cardiomyopathy?

    Alcoholic cardiomyopathy, or ACM, is a form of dilated alcoholic myopathy that develops as a result of long-term heavy drinking in individuals who currently have an alcohol use disorder (AUD) or have had an AUD in the past.

    Ethanol, the substance we commonly think of as alcohol, has direct toxic effects on many different tissues of the body, and over time this toxicity is known to poison, weaken, and damage myocardial tissue, impairing cardiac function.

    This becomes alcoholic cardiomyopathy, and it only grows worse the longer a person continues to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol.

    Symptoms Of Alcohol-Related Cardiomyopathy

    Symptoms of cardiomyopathy often include:

    • chest pains
    • edema, swelling the legs, feet, and/or ankles
    • loss of appetite
    • dyspnea, shortness of breath
    • fatigue and weakness
    • difficulty concentrating
    • coughing up pink mucus or froth
    • oliguria, or decreased urine output
    • nocturia, or need to urinate at night
    • heart palpitations, or irregular heart rhythms
    • tachycardia, or abnormally rapid heart rate

    However, ACM may not cause noticeable symptoms until the condition has become dangerously advanced. And many who have a problematic reliance on alcohol routinely neglect healthcare visits and checkups.

    As a result, many cases of ACM reach a very severe state by the time they are identified using an electrocardiogram, echocardiogram, x-rays, or other tests.

    Alcohol & Heart Disease

    While moderate alcohol use may provide some heart health benefits and even lower a person’s risk of coronary artery disease, drinking alcohol in excess is associated with a wide range of additional cardiovascular diseases and abnormalities, including:

    • arrhythmias and “holiday heart” (irregular heartbeats, often following periods of binge drinking)
    • hypertension, or high blood pressure
    • stroke
    • cardiac arrest, or heart attacks
    • congestive heart failure
    • obesity
    • high cholesterol

    What Is Cardiomyopathy?

    The Latin roots that makeup cardiomyopathy are:

    • card > the heart organ
    • myo > muscle tissue
    • path > disease 

    Accordingly, cardiomyopathy is a disease or condition that impacts the muscle of the heart. The same muscle that we all rely on to beat an average of 80 times each and every minute of each and every day from before we are born until we die. 

    Cardiomyopathy makes it harder for this critical muscle to pump blood, a condition known as systolic dysfunction. This puts strain on the heart that can ultimately lead to congestive heart failure and death, especially without prompt and proper medical treatment. 

    Three Types Of Cardiomyopathy

    There are three types of cardiomyopathy:

    • dilated cardiomyopathy: the most common type of cardiomyopathy in which the heart muscle stretches, becomes thinner, and weakens, enlarging the ventricles and then atria of the heart
    • hypertrophic cardiomyopathy: a genetic condition that causes abnormal thickening and stiffening of the heart muscle
    • restrictive cardiomyopathy: a condition that may result from infection or a variety of other causes, resulting heart muscle that stiffens and does not properly relax between beats

    Risk Factors For Cardiomyopathy

    ACM most commonly impacts middle-aged adults and is by definition limited to those who have maintained a high alcohol intake for a long period of time. This includes heavy drinking for several years. 

    Heavy Drinking

    For men, heavy drinking means more than fifteen standard drinks per week or more than eight standard drinks per week for women. Frequent occasions of binge drinking can also intensify the toxic effects of alcohol on the myocardium (heart muscle).

    This level of chronic alcohol misuse is also strongly associated with other negative health conditions including alcoholic liver disease and cirrhosis, pancreatitis, personality and mood changes, dementia, poor immune function, cancer, and more.

    Treating Alcohol-Related Cardiomyopathy

    Unfortunately, without complete abstinence from alcohol, the four-year mortality rate for ACM is believed to be as high as fifty percent. In other words, up to half of those who develop ACM and do not swiftly give up alcohol will die from the condition in a matter of months or years.

    By detoxing and giving up alcohol consumption totally and permanently, those suffering from ACM can give their heart tissue a break from the toxic effects of alcohol, allowing the condition to be controlled and potentially improved with time and proper treatment.

    Other common treatment options for ACM include:

    • beta blocker medications
    • diuretics
    • ACE inhibitors
    • other heart disease medications
    • heart transplant

    If you’re worried about your heart health but struggle to stop drinking, please contact us today to learn about our addiction treatment options.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2024 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    American Heart Association (AHA) - Cardiomyopathy
    Mayo Clinic - Cardiomyopathy - Diagnosis and treatment
    Medicine - The Prognostic Factors of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy
    World Journal of Cardiology - Alcoholic cardiomyopathy

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
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