How alcohol damage blood vessels

Dr. Jelena Radovanovic We need to know that alcohol can be in some cases beneficial, but very often harmful to the cardiovascular system, depending on the amount consumed and the characteristics of the consumer.

Recent studies have shown that a glass of alcohol each day can help heart function. Drinking alcohol in moderate amounts can help keep the balance of fat in the blood in the right proportions. This can help lower the chances of developing blocked arteries or blood clots. Drinking a lot of alcohol over a long time or too much on a single occasion can damage the heart or interfere with the way it works.

This can cause different problems, including:

  • High blood pressure (hypertension)
  • Increased heart rate
  • Cardiomyopathy – Stretching and drooping of heart muscle
  • Arrhythmias – Irregular heart beat

Drinking high amounts of alcohol can release hormones or affect the muscles in your blood vessels, causing them to become narrower (constrict). When the blood vessels are narrower, the heart has to work harder to push blood around your body. This makes your blood pressure go up. High blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of stroke, heart disease, vascular dementia and chronic kidney disease.

Heart rate is the number of times the heart beats per minute. Alcohol can cause variability in the way the heart beats (the time between heart beats). Studies have found that regular heavy drinking can cause episodes of tachycardia (increased heart rate) and depending on their frequency, length and severity, can cause blood clots that can lead to a heart attack or stroke.

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Long-term heavy drinking can cause the heart muscles to weaken. This is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. If your heart muscle is droopy and stretched it can’t pump blood around your body very well. If the blood flow to other parts of your body is not enough, it can damage to organs and tissues. It can also cause symptoms like breathing difficulties, extreme tiredness, swollen legs and feet, irregular heartbeat and heart failure.

Alcohol can make the heart beat very rapidly, or irregularly. These heart rate abnormalities are called arrhythmias (atrial fibrillation is the most common). They can cause cardiac arrest and stroke. Sometimes referred to as ‘holiday heart’ these disturbances were found to be more frequent after weekends or holidays like Christmas or New Years which are known to have higher alcohol consumption.

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