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  • The Effects Of Alcohol On The Cardiovascular System

    Heavy drinking for a long period of time can contribute to dependence, alcohol use disorder (AUD), and serious health risks. Alcohol can affect several parts of the body, including the cardiovascular system. 

    In particular, alcohol consumption can lead to a weakened heart muscle, irregular heartbeat, and high blood pressure. These conditions increase the risk of experiencing an alcohol-related heart attack and stroke, which can be life-threatening. 

    How Does Alcohol Affect The Cardiovascular System?

    Your cardiovascular system (or circulatory system) consists of your heart and blood vessels, including veins, arteries, and capillaries. Your heart and blood vessels work together to pump blood and oxygen throughout your body. 

    When you drink alcohol, it quickly enters your bloodstream and can affect every part of your body. Moderate drinking can relax and enlarge your blood vessels, which may initially lower blood pressure and make you feel relaxed. 

    However, binge drinking can have the opposite effect and lead to an increased heart rate and high blood pressure. Drinking a large amount of alcohol over a period of time can also weaken the heart muscle and lead to an irregular heartbeat.

    Hypertension

    Several studies have found a link between long-term heavy drinking and hypertension (high blood pressure). Alcohol can constrict blood vessels and make the heart pump harder, which increases blood pressure.

    Cardiomyopathy 

    According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, chronic heavy drinking can cause the heart to stretch. This can weaken the heart and its ability to pump blood. 

    This condition, known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy, can lead to congestive heart failure. Abstinence or decreasing alcohol intake may improve cardiomyopathy but some people may still be at risk for experiencing congestive heart failure. 

    Arrhythmias

    An arrhythmia causes abnormalities in heartbeat patterns. Alcohol use is associated with two types of arrhythmias that can cause an increased and irregular heart rhythm:

    • Tachycardia is a condition that causes an increased heart rate (over 100 beats per minute). 
    • Atrial fibrillation is a type of tachycardia that is also associated with alcohol use that affects the upper chambers of the heart muscle. 

    Arrhythmias can lead to blood clotting, which increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.  

    Cholesterol

    The liver metabolizes alcohol and turns it into triglycerides and cholesterol. A build-up of triglycerides can cause fatty liver disease. This can interfere with liver function and its ability to remove cholesterol.

    This can lead to low levels of good cholesterol (HDL cholesterol), which increases the risk of heart disease. 

    Alcohol Use & Cardiovascular Disease

    Cardiovascular diseases include health conditions that affect the heart or blood vessels. Heart disease and stroke are the most common cardiovascular diseases associated with alcohol abuse.

    Heart Disease

    According to the Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC), heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States.

    The most common type of heart disease is coronary heart disease, also known as ischemic heart disease. This type of heart disease affects blood flow into the heart and carries an increased risk of a heart attack. 

    Heart disease can be difficult to diagnose until symptoms of heart attack, arrhythmia, or heart failure occur. 

    Symptoms of heart disease may include:

    • chest pain or discomfort
    • shortness of breath
    • heartburn
    • dizziness
    • heart palpitations

    Drinking alcohol can lead to high blood pressure, which is a risk factor for heart disease. Other health conditions and lifestyle choices can also affect your risk of heart disease, including obesity and smoking. 

    Heavy Alcohol Use & Stroke

    A stroke is when there is a disruption in blood flow to the brain. Heavy alcohol use is linked with two types of strokes: ischemic stroke and hemorrhagic stroke. 

    Ischemic Stroke

    The two biggest risk factors for ischemic strokes are smoking and high blood pressure, both of which may be associated with alcohol use. 

    Alcohol use can also lead to irregular heartbeat and a weakened heart, which increases the risk of blood clots. Blood clots can block blood flow to the brain and cause brain tissue damage. 

    Hemorrhagic Stroke

    Drinking alcohol can cause liver damage, which can affect your body’s ability to form blood clots. Blood clots are important to prevent excessive bleeding when you have a wound. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a ruptured blood vessel causes bleeding in the brain. 

    If you or someone you love is struggling with alcohol addiction, please contact Ark Behavioral Health to discuss treatment options. 

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2022 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.
    Sources

    Centers For Disease Control And Prevention (CDC) - About Heart Disease
    Heart UK - Alcohol
    Mayo Clinic - Tachycardia
    National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol And The Cardiovascular System
    National Institute On Alcohol Abuse And Alcoholism (NIAAA) - Alcohol's Effects On The Body
    Stroke Association - Alcohol And Stroke

    Medically Reviewed by
    Dr. Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on August 19, 2021
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