We’ve discussed the brain. We’ve looked at the liver. But alcohol abuse impacts your whole body, and it affects each of the organ systems that crucially maintain your life and wellness. Up this week? The effects alcohol has on your heart.
How the Heart Pumps
The heart’s main purpose is to pump blood through the rest of our body. It’s a powerful muscle and, like all muscles, we must exercise it to keep it healthy. Americans are especially at risk for heart disease for a number of reasons, including diet and lifestyle – the Centers for Disease Control reports that nearly half of all Americans have at least one of three key risk factors for heart disease.
Alcohol abuse amplifies our risk of heart disease: alcohol damages the heart and makes it misfire. Several studies show that prolonged alcohol abuse can eventually become harmful health effects (including hypertension, coronary heart disease, peripheral arterial disease, and cardiomyopathy. Excess alcohol – and its calories – can also lead to obesity, making it harder for the heart to pump. Obesity forces your heart to compensate for your increased body mass.
The Long-Term Effects
We’ve got a long list, and first up is cardiomyopathy: a heart-muscle disease that makes it harder for the organ to pump blood to the rest of the body. Left untreated, it can lead to heart failure. Signs of the disease include:
- Irregular heartbeats
- Chest discomfort or pressure
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Swelling in the legs, ankles and feet
Studies show that even moderate alcohol use can lead to cardiomyopathy, and some people are genetically pre-disposed to it. If you experience any of these symptoms after drinking alcohol, make sure to consult your doctor.
High Blood Pressure
Excessive alcohol use (or Alcohol Abuse Disorder) can also cause hypertension, otherwise known as high blood pressure. Hypertension increases our risk of stroke, heart attack, heart failure, and aneurysms. It can also cause a condition called atherosclerosis: plaque builds up on the walls of our blood vessels and narrows them. Hypertension-related atherosclerosis can lead to:
- Heart failure and heart attacks
- Kidney failure
High blood pressure often doesn’t show symptoms, and so it’s especially important to have your doctor check for it.
Long-term alcohol abuse also affects your arteries – both the arteries in your heart and those running through your body. Peripheral artery diseases causes pain in our limbs, because fatty deposits build up in our arteries. Coronary artery disease comes when those same fatty deposits clog your heart’s arteries, and it increases the risk of heart attack. Early signs of coronary heart disease include:
- Pain or discomfort in the upper body
- Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
- Indigestion or “heartburn” feeling
- Nausea or vomiting
The good news is that the heart can recover and regenerate some of its healthy tissues if the damage is not too extensive. Ceasing alcohol consumption, performing cardiovascular exercises and adjusting diet to minimize salts, unhealthy fats and excess calories can all help rebuild heart health.
If you’re just beginning your alcohol recovery journey, or aren’t sure where to start, check out our Getting Started Guide. If you’re not sure where to start, check out our Getting Started Guide. And if you haven’t already, sign up for In The Rooms today! See how our peer recovery meetings and recovery community can best serve you.
“Heart Disease.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
“Alcohol’s Effects on the Cardiovascular System.“ National Center for Biotechnological Information.
“Cardiomyopathy.” – Mayo Clinic
“Everything you need to know about hypertension.” Medical News Today
“What to know about atherosclerosis.” Medical News Today