How Alcohol Affects the Cardiovascular System
Did you know that drinking a lot over time—or even too much on one occasion—can damage your heart? It’s true. Alcohol misuse can lead to strokes—even in people without pre-existing heart disease—contribute to high blood pressure; impact heart rate; and cause alcohol-associated cardiomyopathy, a disease of the heart muscle that makes it harder for the heart to pump blood throughout the body, which, in turn, deprives organs of oxygen.
Impact of Alcohol on the Heart and Body
Drinking too much alcohol causes the release of specific stress hormones that confine blood vessels and raise blood pressure, both which may be associated with hypertension. Furthermore, long-term alcohol use can cause the heart to beat faster than normal. This can throw off the “internal pacemaker system,” which keeps the heart pumping consistently at the correct pace.
Long-term, heavy alcohol use can also lead to cardiomyopathy, which stretches and enlarges the heart and makes it less effective at pumping. This impaired pumping can cause severe tissue and organ damage and even result in heart failure. Individuals with cardiomyopathy may experience shortness of breath, swollen legs and feet, and an irregular heartbeat.
Additionally, research indicates that binge drinking—defined as the consumption of 4 or more drinks for women on one occasion and 5 or more drinks for men on a single occasion— can be just as damaging to the heart as long-term alcohol misuse. Binge drinking is associated with an increased risk of serious cardiovascular events, including stroke and heart attack.
The good news is that quitting drinking can lower your blood pressure and improve your heart health. Note that an individual, who has been drinking heavily for a prolonged period, should not suddenly stop drinking without seeking advice and guidance from a healthcare professional since suddenly stopping alcohol use could cause dangerous and potentially life-threatening withdrawal symptoms.
If you struggle with alcohol misuse, you’re not alone. There are resources to help you achieve long-term sobriety and to help you lead a healthy life. Please reach out to get the help that you need today.