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Can drinking too much alcohol cause a heart attack? (excerpt)

Can drinking too much alcohol cause a heart attack? (excerpt)

Medical News Today
Written by Hana Ames
Medically reviewed by Dr. Payal Kohli, M.D., FACC
April 19, 2022

A heart attack is a medical emergency that results from the interruption of blood flow to the heart. Excessive alcohol use has associations with an increased risk of a heart attack.

Around every 40 seconds (Trusted Source), someone in the United States has a heart attack. People with heart disease have an increased risk of a heart attack. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease that develops due to drinking excessive amounts of alcohol.

Additionally, frequent heavy alcohol drinking can damage the structure and function of the heart before symptoms occur (Trusted Source).

This article will explain how heavy drinking can affect the heart and lead to other complications. It will also describe how to help recover from an alcohol-induced heart attack, whether drinking alcohol is safe for people with heart disease, and risk factors.

Can heavy drinking cause a heart attack? 

Heavy drinking can cause high blood pressure, which increases a person’s risk of a heart attack.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) (Trusted Source)define heavy drinking as consuming eight or more drinks per week for women or 15 or more drinks per week for men.

It also defines excessive drinking as consuming four or more drinks in a single session for women or five or more drinks in a single session for men.

Short-term effects of heavy drinking 

Excessive alcohol consumption has many short term effects (Trusted Source), including:

  • Injuries: Falls, drownings, burns, and motor vehicle accidents occur more frequently after drinking alcohol.
  • Violence: Heavy drinking increases the risk of violent behavior, which can lead to injuries or assault.
  • Alcohol poisoning: This medical emergency can occur when a person has high blood alcohol levels.
  • Pregnancy risks: Pregnant people may experience miscarriage, stillbirth, or fetal alcohol spectrum disorders.

How alcohol affects the heart and other organs 

The American Heart Association (AHA) (Trusted Source) explains that drinking excess alcohol can raise triglyceride levels in the blood. High triglyceride levels, in combination with either excess low-density lipoprotein cholesterol or insufficient high-density lipoprotein cholesterol, can lead to fatty buildups in the artery walls. This increases the risk of heart attack and stroke.

According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (Trusted Source), alcohol can affect the heart in the following ways:

  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy: This type of heart disease enlarges and distorts the heart, weakening the muscle and preventing it from pumping blood efficiently.
  • Arrhythmias: A person has an arrhythmia when their heart beats too fast, too slowly, or irregularly.
  • Stroke: A stroke can occur when blood does not flow to the brain properly, leading to the death of brain cells.
  • High blood pressure, or hypertension: This describes high pressure within blood vessels. It can occur when blood vessels narrow or there is more fluid in the body than expected.
  • Interacting with heart medications: For example, some blood thinners may cause gastrointestinal bleeding.

Because alcohol has a high calorie content, a person may gain weight through drinking, leading to high blood pressure. High blood pressure is one of the most important risk factors for having a heart attack or a stroke. Obesity is also a risk factor.

Other parts of the body that heavy drinking can affect include the liver, kidneys, pancreas, and immune system.

Learn about 10 health risks of chronic heavy drinking.