Alcohol and Heart Disease

How does alcohol affect the heart?

Alcohol can hurt the heart, but it may also help the heart.

Too much alcohol over time can make the heart get bigger and weaken the heart muscle. This can lead to heart failure, which means that the heart muscle cannot pump enough blood to meet the body's needs. Heavy drinking of alcohol is also a common cause of irregular and fast heartbeats, called atrial fibrillation.

However, small amounts of alcohol may help the heart. Drinking alcohol may lower the risk of heart attacks and death from heart and blood vessel disease for some people. This may be because alcohol lowers cholesterol and blood pressure. However, alcohol also increases the risk of falls, car crashes, and some kinds of stroke. Eating a healthy diet, exercising, and quitting smoking are better choices for heart health than drinking alcohol.

Moderate drinking is the key. Moderate drinking means 1 drink a day for women and no more than 2 drinks a day for men. A drink equals 12 ounces of regular beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1 and 1/2 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits, such as whiskey or vodka. Drinking more than a moderate amount of alcohol increases your risk for heart disease.

If you are taking certain medicines, you should not be drinking any alcohol because the combination of your medicine with alcohol could hurt your liver or change the effect of your medicine. Ask your healthcare provider about this.

How is heart disease diagnosed?

Your healthcare provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and examine you. You may have some tests, such as:

  • Electrocardiogram (ECG), a recording of the electrical activity of the heart
  • Echocardiogram, a sound-wave test
  • Blood tests
  • Urine tests

How is it treated?

If you have heart disease related to alcohol, you must stop drinking completely. The good news is that if damage to your heart is not severe, your heart may go back to its normal size and may pump better after you stop drinking. If you keep drinking even moderately, your heart function will keep getting worse.

Ask yourself these questions to find out if you have a drinking problem:

  • Have you ever felt you should stop drinking so much?
  • Have people showed concern about how much or how often you drink?
  • Have you ever felt bad or guilty about your drinking?
  • Have you ever had a drink first thing in the morning to steady your nerves or to get rid of a hangover?

Any "yes" answer means that you should get help for your drinking. There are many places where you can get help, such as clinics, Alcoholics Anonymous, and support groups. Your healthcare provider can also help you quit drinking and recover from problems caused by alcohol.

Talk to your healthcare provider about your use of alcohol, particularly if you are taking medicines.

Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Copyright ©2014 McKesson Corporation and/or one of its subsidiaries. All rights reserved.