While researchers believe that drinking alcohol in moderation may help protect the heart, heavy drinking actually increases your risk of heart disease. Alcohol also may react with certain medications. There are many negative effects to heart health associated with significant alcohol consumption. These include:
- Increased levels of fat in the blood, called triglycerides, which are associated with coronary artery disease
- High blood pressure — Narrowing and hardening of the arteries reduces systemic blood flow and increases blood pressure.
- Heart failure, a progressive condition in which the heart cannot pump enough blood to meet the needs of the body
- Stroke, an injury to the brain that occurs when the brain's blood supply is interrupted. Blood vessels that carry blood from the heart to the body are called arteries. Damage or blockage to any of these arteries can slow or stop blood flow to the brain.
- Cardiomyopathy — The heart muscle may become damaged due to chronic alcohol abuse. The damage results in inadequate contraction of the heart muscle.
- Cardiac arrhythmia or abnormal heart rhythms. If the heart beats too slowly it cannot adequately pump blood through the body. If it beats too quickly, it may not allow the heart to fill with the adequate amount of blood the body needs between heartbeats.
- Sudden cardiac death – The heart suddenly stops beating and the person can quickly die since blood is not being pumped throughout the body.
Moderation is essential with alcohol because many chronic health problems can develop or worsen due to alcohol abuse. Moderate alcohol intake is considered to be one drink per day if you are a woman and one to two drinks per day if you are a man. One drink equals no more than 1/2 ounce of pure alcohol.
If you do drink alcohol, talk with your provider to determine how much is healthy for you. It is important to remember that moderate ingestion of alcohol can affect your overall health. Based on currently available data, taking up regular consumption of alcohol is not encouraged for people who do not drink or drink sporadically. Reduction or elimination of alcohol can help improve heart failure-related symptoms.
Periodically review your use of alcohol with your provider. You may need to change your drinking behavior if you begin to consume too much or experience harmful consequences as a result of drinking alcohol. If you are concerned with the effects of drinking alcohol or struggling with alcohol addiction, talk to your provider. There are effective treatments to help you recover.