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The effects of alcohol on the heart

It’s “Dry January” and many of us will be focused on our alcohol consumption. When we think about the effects of drinking too much alcohol, we almost always think of the liver, but alcohol can also lead to serious heart conditions and heart disease. While a lowering of inhibitions and weight gain are the two most immediate and noticeable effects of alcohol, there may well be unseen problems if you regularly exceed the recommended safe limits.

The effects

Drinking in excess increases your blood pressure, which is one of the leading causes of strokes and heart attacks. As alcohol also causes you to pile on the pounds, being overweight or obese also raises the risk of heart attacks and strokes still further.

Heavy drinking weakens the heart muscles and makes it harder for your heart to pump blood around the body, sometimes leading to heart failure. Even if you don’t drink heavily on a regular basis, the occasional ‘binge drinking’ session can lead to heart problems. Sometimes known as ‘Holiday Heart Syndrome’, the irregular heart rhythm caused by drinking 15+ units within a 24-hour period can cause blood pressure changes and increases your risk of heart attacks or sudden death.

Know your limits

Government guidelines suggest men and women should consume no more than 14 units of alcohol per week and should have some days when they abstain altogether. If you do have a binge drinking session then experts recommend staying off alcohol for 48 hours, to give your body time to recover.

Taken in moderation, however, alcohol can have some benefits. Research has found that women over 55 who had no more than five units a week enjoyed better heart health than those who drank in excess or those who didn’t drink at all. As part of a healthy, balanced diet, alcohol may not a problem.

It’s always important to know about the repercussions of excessive drinking and to have insight when it’s becoming a problem. The focus on alcohol this month is a good time to reflect on your own consumption. The small benefits alcohol may bring are outweighed by the harm it can cause, so bear that in mind whenever you reach for that next glass of wine or can of beer. Keep active, eat healthily and drink only in moderation if you want to protect your heart and health. To find out more or if you are worried about your heart, visit the One Heart Clinic pages.