Alcohol and Your Heart
Benefits and risks of alcohol on heart health
The affect of alcohol on your heart depends on the amount and pattern of your drinking and your age.
Cardiovascular disease is the grouping of diseases and disorders that involve the heart and the blood vessels. This includes atherosclerosis (fatty plaques on the artery wall and hardening and rigidity of the wall) and high blood pressure, which can predispose an individual to heart attacks, heart failure and strokes.
Heart, stroke and vascular diseases kill more Australians than any other disease group.
Heavy drinkers have an increased risk of heart disorders. The more they drink, the higher the risk becomes. Long-term and heavy alcohol consumption is linked with high blood pressure, stroke (especially cerebral haemorrhage due to ruptured blood vessels) and cardiomyopathy (weakness of the heart muscle, so that the heart doesn’t pump blood as efficiently).
There is some evidence that a regular pattern of drinking relatively small amounts of alcohol (as low as one (1) standard alcoholic drink every second day) reduces the risk of ischemic heart disease in people from middle age onwards. This relates mainly to men over 40 years and post-menopausal women.
There has been some debate about the reported benefits of alcohol consumption in respect to reduced heart disease. It has been suggested that there may have been a systematic error in many studies. However studies that were free of the potential error did demonstrate that moderate drinkers were less likely to suffer cardiac disease than lifelong abstainers.
- In a healthy person, small amounts of alcohol – up to two (2) standard alcoholic drinks per day – has been found to reduce the risk of cardiovascular disease for men and women. If larger amounts of alcohol are consumed, however, the risk of cardiovascular disease increases proportionately.
- Blood pressure increases with each standard alcoholic drink. This will decrease however, within two to four weeks after you stop drinking alcohol or when you reduce your drinking.
- Drinking heavy amounts of alcohol increases the risk of high blood pressure and is independent of other risk factors such as being overweight or smoking cigarettes. Your genes also influence how much your blood pressure will increase when drinking alcohol.
- Binge drinking can cause acute cardiovascular effects for example, heartbeat irregularities leading to shortness of breath and chest pain. These effects are reversible if you stop drinking or greatly reduce the amount you drink.
- Drinking heavy or excessive amounts of alcohol can increase your risk of stroke. Women are also more susceptible than men to haemorrhagic strokes when they drink heavily.