Is alcohol bad for your health?
This question had many different answers throughout the history, most recently published studies agree that consumption of one or two drinks a day is associated with a reduction of heart attacks by approximately 30% to 50%.
Bigger amounts of alcohol are known to cause bad effects on almost all body organs. Heart is one of the organs seriously affected by alcohol and as a result two condition may happen:
Alcohol consumption in large amounts for long time has a toxic effect on the heart muscle, this toxic effect eventually may cause an alcoholic cardiomyopathy. In this condition the heart cavity becomes bigger and the heart muscle become thinner. This condition is a major issue and might eventually lead to death.
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy weakens the heart and decreases the amount of blood pumped, this is called heart failure. In severe cases, the lack of blood flow affects all parts of the body, damaging many tissues and organs.
Usually there are no symptoms until the disease is advanced. Then symptoms start to occur due to heart failure:
- Edema: Swelling especially of the ankles feet and hands
- Shortness of breath increased with exercise.
- Awakening in the night with severe shortness of breath and difficulty breathing.
- Shortness of breath when you lie down.
- Long lasting cough that contains mucus or pink material.
- Decreased amount of urine.
- Loss of appetite
Your doctor may place you on a low-salt diet and restrict the amount of liquids you drink. Alcohol must be stopped at this point completely.
Your doctor may prescribe several medications to treat the cardiomypathy such as ACE inhibitors, Beta blockers and Diuretics.
In more advanced stages the doctor may recommend to place an implantable defibrillator. A heart transplant may be needed eventually.
Holiday Heart Syndrome
Another condition was recently described by medical society called Holiday Heart Syndrome. This condition first described in patients who consumed alcohol heavily especially in a holiday drinking binge. Later it turned out that arrhythmias happen regardless of the amount of alcohol consumed. This condition is a fast cardiac rhythm (tachycardia) or conducting disturbance in apparently healthy individuals with only one thing in common, binge drinking.
The holiday heart syndrome can recur multiple times but usually its clinical course is benign. Your doctor most likely will not prescribe a specific antiarrhythmic therapy but rather will schedule you for a follow up visit to make sure the arrhythmia is not permanent. It is important to know that you don't need to drink a lot of alcohol to induce heart arrhythmia, some people get arrhythmia from one drink.
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