Photo: Getty Images
I feel my heart beating faster when I drink. Is this normal?
To a certain extent, yes, but there are some warning signs that indicate you should get these heart palpitations checked out.
There are a number of heart-rhythm problems that alcohol can trigger. Some are just nuisances while others, like atrial fibrillation, are real concerns, says Harmony Reynolds, M.D., a cardiologist and the associate director of the Cardiovascular Clinical Research Center at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City. “This is one that I think may not be so easy to write off,” she says.
“Some people will feel the heart beating strongly when they’re drinking because they’re a little dehydrated and they may have an adrenaline response because of what else may be going on or just because of the alcohol,” Dr. Reynolds says. “That can be a normal heart rhythm or an abnormal heart rhythm, and there’s no real easy way to tell when it’s happening to you.”
Why does the heart react this way in the first place? Alcohol makes blood vessels in the skin get larger, a.k.a. dilate, which means the heart has to pump more blood to keep the same amount circulating through the rest of the body. It does this by beating a little harder and sometimes a little faster in order to keep up, she says. (This is known as a vasodilator effect and it can be stronger in Asian people, which is why many Asian people get flushed when they drink, Dr. Reynolds says.)
Some people notice the effect after a drink or two while others only feel their heart racing if they overdo it with, say, five drinks. Circumstantial factors — like stress, sleep deprivation, and caffeine — can make everything worse, because they all seem to evoke an adrenaline-type response, she says, as does alcohol.
“You could be at a bar, relaxed and having fun and you can be at a bar in a stressful situation,” Dr. Reynolds says. “There are a lot of different things — not just the amount of alcohol — that would explain why a palpitation happens one time and not another.”
So when should you call a doctor? Dr. Reynolds says that, overall, “if people are feeling their heart racing when they’re drinking, they should get it checked out.” But specific danger signs include palpitations lasting longer than a minute or two, feeling lightheaded, feeling short of breath, having chest pain or discomfort, sweating, and passing out or feeling like you’re going to.
Atrial fibrillation, or afib, is one abnormal heart rhythm that can be triggered by alcohol and cardiologists worry about this one because it comes with a risk of stroke, which is higher in women and in people with other risk factors that a doctor can assess, she says. Most people are going to be reassured, but, uh, much better to be safe here.
And for some people whose heart palpitations are caused by something more benign than afib, alcohol just isn’t worth it. “I have patients who have chosen to avoid alcohol completely because the good feelings are outweighed by the bad heart feelings. Even though their heart problem is not particularly dangerous, it’s just not that fun.”
From the Editors Inbox
“Last weekend I had been out drinking, and then woke in the middle of the night with a racing and pounding heart. I found it difficult to breathe, and it took a while to settle down. Why did this happen, was I just anxious?” — Lauren
Keep reading. . .
It is very common for people to experience a racing heart from consuming alcohol. Many drinks have a high sugar content that can cause your heart to race faster and stronger. Also, have you ever wondered why you need to go to the toilet repeatedly after a few drinks? Well, it’s because alcohol is a diuretic — a urine producing substance. So when you have a few too many cocktails your heart tries to compensate for the loss of fluid volume, from all the frequent visits to the loo. It does this by increasing the blood flow and the force of each contraction with each heartbeat, which might explain that pounding feeling you had.
It’s always important to drink in moderation and if you are going to have a glass, try to stick to clear drink choices that use sparkling mineral water over soft drinks or juices. And, try to drink a glass of water for every alcohol beverage you have, this will help prevent dehydration.
Always know the warning signs of a heart attack, and if you’re ever in doubt call Triple Zero (000) to ask for an ambulance. I hope I’ve helped Lauren! — Steph, POPSUGAR health and beauty journalist
Do you have a question for our health and fitness editor? Email it to [email protected]
Even in moderation, alcohol may be hard on your heart. Some research suggests that having as little as one to three alcoholic drinks each day may increase your risk for atrial fibrillation (Afib).
Cleveland Clinic is a non-profit academic medical center. Advertising on our site helps support our mission. We do not endorse non-Cleveland Clinic products or services. Policy
The most common abnormal heart rhythm, Afib causes symptoms including lack of energy, dizziness, shortness of breath, heart palpitations and chest pain.
The findings are worth noting for people with Afib as well as those without the condition, says cardiologist Bruce Wilkoff, MD. Dr. Wilkoff did not take part in the study.
“What’s different about this study is that more modest amounts of alcohol intake seem to also correlate with developing atrial fibrillation,” Dr. Wilkoff says.
- Booze may make the heart beat faster
- ‘Plausible’ link between alcohol, arrhythmia
- Alcohol, caffeine are common triggers of irregular heart rhythm
- Alcohol and Heart Palpitations
- Studying the Effects of Alcohol
- Chest Pains After Drinking Alcohol
- How much does alcohol affect the heart?
- How does alcohol lead to chest pain?
- Other substances that one consumes with alcohol
- Interactions with medications
- How to deal with occasional alcohol-related chest pain
- Call an ambulance if chest pain is severe
- Heart attacks are more common during the holidays
- Detecting cardiomyopathy early
- How does alcohol damage the heart?
- How can a doctor detect this disease?
- How is alcohol-related damage to the heart treated?
- How can one quit alcohol if they are addicted to it?
- How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Harm the Heart?
- Key Points: Alcohol Withdrawal and Chest Tightness
- What Does a Hangover Feel Like?
- Hangover Symptoms
Wine and liquor are main culprits
Researchers of the Karolinska Institute in Sweden studied more than 79,000 men and women between the ages of 45 and 83. They followed them for 12 years and looked closely at the effects of different types of alcohol – liquor, wine and beer.
They found an increased risk for atrial fibrillation with moderately drinking wine and liquor. They did not find such a relationship with drinking beer.
The study defined moderate drinking as one to three alcoholic drinks each day. What if you drink less? The researchers said spreading out alcohol consumption over the course of a week might mean less severe heart rhythm effects. The study also found that your risk of developing Afib increases with drinking more wine and liquor.
At the starting point, study participants were free from atrial fibrillation. Each completed a questionnaire about how much they drink, what types of beverages they consume and other risk factors for chronic diseases.
Moderation is key
Dr. Wilkoff says more studies are needed. But, he notes, these findings mostly affect people who have already been diagnosed with Afib.
“Alcohol in moderation — meaning not every day and in small amounts – is probably okay,” he says. “But if you notice Afib symptoms, stop. Not drinking may potentially stop the Afib and prevent any long-term damage.”
Read the complete findings for the study “Alcohol and Risk of Atrial Fibrillation” in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.
Booze may make the heart beat faster
A few years back, I was in a bar one Saturday night celebrating a friend’s birthday. Drinks were flowing — down my neck, mainly — and I made a bit of a fool of myself on karaoke, belting out my special rendition of “Groove is in the Heart” by Deee-Lite.
Share on PinterestA study of Munich Oktoberfest attendees discovered that drinking can increase heart rate.
As I showcased my amazing vocal talent (move over, Mariah) and some excellent dance moves to match, I lost my footing and tumbled off the stage.
Needless to say, I felt quite fragile the next day, and every time I hear that song, it takes me back to that fun, yet embarrassing, night.
Let’s face it — most of us have been in a similar situation at one time or another (please, humor me).
More than half of us have had a drink in the past month, and over a quarter of us have engaged in “binge drinking.”
When you drink large amounts of alcohol within a short period of time — typically at least five drinks for men and four drinks for women in the space of 2 hours — this is considered binge drinking.
Binge drinking is not deemed an alcohol use disorder in itself, but research shows that it can be a risk factor.
One study also linked binge drinking to irregular heartbeat, or arrhythmia. Admittedly, the study I’m referring to was conducted in the 1970s, but it seems that the evidence was strong enough to coin this phenomenon “holiday heart syndrome,” inspired by the notion that we’re more likely to binge drink during the holidays, vacations, and social events.
Researchers have since between binge drinking and arrhythmia, and I’ve come across a new study that adds fuel to the fire.
From studying adults who attended the Munich Oktoberfest in 2015, researchers found that the more alcohol we drink, the higher our heart rate becomes, and a heart that beats too fast — clinically known as tachycardia — can be harmful. I took a closer look at the research.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with Oktoberfest, it’s an annual folk festival — held in Munich, Germany — that primarily involves drinking beer. In fact, more than 6 million liters of the stuff are expected to be consumed at this year’s event.
So, what better place to gather subjects and measure the effects of binge drinking on heart rate?
This is precisely what Dr. Moritz Sinner, from the University Hospital Munich in Germany, and his research team did: using electrocardiography, they measured the heart rate of 3,012 Munich Oktoberfest attendees, and they also measured their breath alcohol concentrations.
They found that the heart rates of these adults increased with the amount of alcohol they drank. In fact, for more than 25 percent of them, increasing breath alcohol concentrations were associated with sinus tachycardia greater than 100 beats per minute.
Sinus tachycardia is defined by the American Heart Association (AHA) as a “normal increase in the heart rate.” So is this finding really something to be worried about?
“We cannot yet conclude that a higher heart rate induced by alcohol is harmful,” says Dr. Sinner. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves.
” people with heart conditions already have a higher heart rate, which in many cases triggers arrhythmias, including atrial fibrillation. So it is plausible that the higher heart rate following alcohol consumption could lead to arrhythmias.”
Dr. Moritz Sinner
Dr. Sinner points out that the people they included in this study were young — just an average age of 35 years — and healthy.
“If we conducted the same study in older people or heart patients,” he reasons, “we might have found an association between drinking alcohol and arrhythmias.”
Although this article is unlikely to put you off having a few drinks during your next night out, it’s certainly worth being mindful of the effects a binge drinking session could have on your heart health — and your singing abilities.
Alcohol, caffeine are common triggers of irregular heart rhythm
(Reuters Health) – The most common triggers of atrial fibrillation – an irregular heart rhythm that’s a leading cause of stroke – are avoidable behaviors like drinking alcohol or coffee, a recent study suggests.
People don’t always realize when they’re experiencing atrial fibrillation, or AFib, but some feel unpleasant chest palpitations or a racing, irregular heartbeat.
Some patients have AFib 24 hours a day. In others, the irregular heartbeat is “paroxysmal,” that is, it comes and goes. For the current study, reported in the journal Heart Rhythm, researchers surveyed 1,295 patients with symptomatic paroxysmal AFib and found the most common behaviors that triggered episodes of the arrhythmia were alcohol consumption, caffeine consumption and exercise.
The survey asked about 11 possible triggers: alcohol, caffeine, lack of sleep, exercise, not exercising, consuming cold beverages, consuming cold foods, high sodium diet, consuming large meals, dehydration, and lying on one’s left side.
About three-fourths of the patients said at least one of those behaviors triggered AFib some or all of the time.
Alcohol consumption was cited by 35 percent, followed by coffee drinking (28 percent), exercise (23 percent) and lack of sleep (21 percent).
The researchers say it’s possible the behaviors don’t actually trigger the episodes but instead make the symptoms worse.
The study wasn’t designed to tell whether cutting back on these triggers would reduce the frequency of AFib episodes.
Still, coauthor Dr. Gregory Marcus from University of California, San Francisco told Reuters Health, “Many, if not most of these triggers are modifiable, and we feel theoretically the patient does have some power to potentially influence the probability of an episode occurring.”
Dr. Deepak Bhat, a cardiologist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart & Vascular Center in Boston who was not associated with the study, agreed. He told Reuters Health by phone, “Importantly, the information in this paper is actionable. People with episodes of atrial fibrillation that appear to be triggered by alcohol or caffeine, for example, can avoid these.”
Associations between alcohol and AFib are well known, but the link with coffee is controversial, Bhat said. “Some experts dispute that association . . . though I have seen it in many patients,” he added.
Bhat noted that while exercise is a healthy habit, strenuous exercise after long periods of not exercising has been known to trigger heart arrhythmias.
Marcus said the idea for the research came from a summit that brought together patients and researchers to identify topics patients thought were not well covered by the scientific community. Patients with atrial fibrillation unanimously agreed that they wanted to know more about triggers.
“While there has been quite a bit of research investigating the root cause of the first diagnosis of (AFib), there has not been sufficient investigation into understanding why an episode happens when it happens,” Marcus said.
In AFib, the heart’s two small upper chambers beat irregularly and too fast, “quivering like a bowl of gelatin,” according to the American Heart Association. As a result, the heart can’t pump properly and the body doesn’t get enough oxygen-carrying blood. AFib can lead to serious medical problems including stroke and heart failure. Treatments include medication to regulate the heart rate or heart rhythm, blood thinners to help prevent clots from forming, and in some cases, electric shocks to reset the beat of the heart.
SOURCE: bit.ly/2Wwo13q Heart Rhythm, online February 14, 2019.
Our Standards:The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.
The term “holiday heart syndrome” was coined in a 1978 study to describe patients with atrial fibrillation who experienced a common and potentially dangerous form of heart palpitation after excessive drinking, which can be common during the winter holiday season. The symptoms usually went away when the revelers stopped drinking. Now, research from UCSF builds on that finding, establishing a stronger causal link between alcohol consumption and serious palpitations in patients with atrial fibrillation, the most common form of arrhythmia.
In a paper scheduled to be published August 1 in the American Journal of Cardiology, the UCSF researchers report that people with atrial fibrillation had almost a four and a half times greater chance of having an episode if they were consuming alcohol than if they were not.
“One of the remaining big unknowns is why or how this happens,” said senior author Gregory Marcus, MD, assistant professor of medicine at the UCSF Division of Cardiology. “In a previous publication, we suggested that there was an effect on the electrical activity of the atrium that leads to these arrhythmias but we do need additional studies to prove that.”
Alcohol and Heart Palpitations
In the study, conducted from September 2004 to March 2011, UCSF researchers interviewed 223 patients with documented cardiac arrhythmia, a term that encompasses both atrial fibrillation and supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), or rapid heart rate originating above the ventricles. Researchers asked patients, “Does alcohol trigger your heart palpitations?” Participants ranked their symptoms on a scale from one to five (i.e. never, rarely, sometimes, frequently, and always).
Gregory Marcus, MD, conducts an electrophysiology study on a patient at the UCSF Medical Center’s Heart & Vascular Center.
“We defined ‘yes’ as frequently or always versus the rest of the responses,” Marcus said, “and found that, after adjusting for potential confounders, atrial fibrillation patients had statistically significant greater odds of reporting that alcohol would trigger their symptoms.” Of those patients interviewed, 133 reported intermittent or paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, or irregular heart palpitations, when drinking, and 90 had SVT, without any atrial fibrillation. After adjusting for variables, the paroxysmal atrial fibrillation group had a 4.42 greater chance of reporting alcohol consumption as an arrhythmia trigger, compared to the SVT group. Patients’ claims of atrial fibrillation were verified by surface electrocardiograms and invasive cardiac studies.
The mean age of the study participants was 59 years. Eighty percent were Caucasian; 11 percent were Asian; 5 percent Latino, and 4 percent declined to state their ethnicity in the atrial fibrillation group. All were referred to and studied at UCSF.
“We didn’t find any clear associations between age and race as a trigger, but we probably had insufficient number of people in the study,” Marcus said.
Studying the Effects of Alcohol
Other studies have suggested that alcohol could help decrease the chance of developing atherosclerosis, which clogs or narrows the arteries. One of the proposed sources of benefit is the antioxidant in red wine called resveratrol, which may help prevent heart disease by increasing the “good” cholesterol in a person’s body.
Chest Pains After Drinking Alcohol
Experiencing chest pains after drinking alcohol can easily have one worrying.
Is this a reasonably harmless symptom of having a little too much to drink, or does it suggest that it is dangerous for one to continue drinking alcohol?
There are many different causes of alcohol-related chest pain, and not all of them are so severe that one must give up drinking altogether.
One should never ignore such symptoms, but in some cases, they can have relatively minor rather than serious causes.
As well as chest pain, drinking may cause one to experience an irregular heartbeat, abnormal breathing, and other issues that are not similar to typical hangover symptoms.
How much does alcohol affect the heart?
Large quantities of alcohol are harmful to the heart, and heart disease often kills long term heavy drinkers.
When the stomach digests alcohol and the liver breaks it down further, it turns into many potentially dangerous substances that can cause harm to the body as they pass through it.
If one exposes their body to these hazardous substances for too long, the heart can be severely damaged.
With long term heavy drinking, the heart muscle may expand, which will weaken it and may eventually cause it to fail .
The hormonal effects of alcohol may also do damage to the heart, and repeatedly raising one’s adrenaline isn’t good for the heart either.
On another level, alcohol is not one-sidedly bad for the heart.
Most but not all of the evidence is in favour of moderate drinking being good for arterial and heart health .
Those who drink a reasonable amount of alcohol have lower rates of heart disease than those who drink none at all.
However, evidence in favour of alcohol’s positive effects on heart health applies only to moderate drinking.
Heavy drinking is undoubtedly harmful to heart health according to all of the evidence.
How does alcohol lead to chest pain?
Alcohol can lead to chest pain in many different ways, some, although not all of which relate to serious health problems.
Alcohol may cause weakened blood flow to the heart.
Sometimes alcohol can cause an irregular heartbeat even in a healthy person. In other cases, it is a sign of a health problem.
1. Alcohol allergy
A few people are allergic to alcohol itself, which is often very serious and requires the person to avoid even small quantities of alcohol altogether.
More commonly, people are allergic to certain ingredients in alcoholic drinks.
Sulfites and histamines can cause allergic reactions in many persons .
As well as allergies to sulfites and histamines, one may be allergic to the grains, gluten, or wheat used to produce alcohol.
Alcohol can also be challenging to digest for many people.
Many of these alcohol-related allergies can cause an irregular heartbeat and chest pain, as well as other symptoms.
Depending on the nature and seriousness of one’s alcohol intolerance, one may have to avoid drinking altogether.
In other cases, one may be able to continue to avoid alcohol as long as they avoid certain drinks.
One might drink spirits rather than beer if one is allergic to grains, or one might drink red wine rather than white wine if one is allergic to sulfates.
One should talk to their doctor about the safety of continuing to drink even though one is allergic to some ingredients found in alcoholic drinks.
2. Acid reflux
Excessive drinking can lead to a person developing acid reflux disease.
If a person develops acid reflux disease as a result of other causes, alcohol may still trigger an acid reflux attack.
Avoiding eating a large amount of food with alcoholic drinks can sometimes allow one to continue to drink in spite of mild acid reflux problems .
Acid reflux attacks can be painful and distressing, sometimes so much so that one believes they are suffering a heart attack.
If alcohol, in combination with food, causes chest pain, one should talk to their doctor about the possibility of having acid reflux disease.
Antacids can sometimes allow one with acid reflux disease to drink, depending on the seriousness of the illness.
3. Alcohol and stress
While alcohol can calm the nerves and make one more socially energetic, it can also raise stress levels.
One might want a few drinks after a hard days’ work, but regular drinking can make one more and not less vulnerable to stress and anxiety.
Sometimes, nervousness can occur during a night of drinking rather than the morning after.
Alcohol causes the body to produce adrenaline, which is not great for one’s stress levels.
A person with a healthy heart may experience an irregular heartbeat or even chest pain as a result of an alcohol-induced anxiety attack.
One should learn to reduce stress and possess social energy without using alcohol or other substances.
4. Alcohol and dehydration
Alcohol dehydrates the body and unbalances one’s electrolytes.
A combination of depleted electrolytes and dehydration can cause heart palpitations in many people.
Muscle strain can also become more noticeable when one’s fluids and electrolytes are too low.
5. Hodgkin’s disease
Sometimes, a person who has undiagnosed cancer of the lymph nodes (Hodgkin’s disease) can experience chest pain when drinking alcohol.
While Hodgkin’s disease does not affect the heart, the irritation of the lymph nodes can cause one to feel pain in the chest.
One should always talk to their doctor about their health problems, including chest pain.
Most likely, one’s chest pain is nothing serious, but it can be a sign of a disease that may kill unless a doctor diagnoses it in its early stages.
Other substances that one consumes with alcohol
While drinking alcohol, one might frequently smoke cigarettes or use other drugs.
Alcohol-related chest pain may be caused by other substances that one uses while drinking and not by the alcohol itself.
Since alcohol, caffeine, and nicotine all raise blood pressure, a combination of two or all three can be enough to cause chest pains.
Interactions with medications
One should talk to their doctor about whether or not any medications (including over the counter medications) they use are unsafe to take with alcohol.
One’s drinking may be unproblematic in terms of the amount consumed but causing problems due to adverse interactions with one’s medications.
Anti-inflammatory drugs such as aspirin and ibuprofen can cause alcohol-related chest pain to go away.
Drinking water can cure the dehydration that may be contributing to one’s chest pain.
One should never ignore chest pain. Only if one is aware that a severe health issue does not cause their alcohol-related chest pain is it ok for one to continue to drink.
They consider relying on anti-inflammatory medications to cure occasional chest pain.
Call an ambulance if chest pain is severe
If chest pain is severe, one may be experiencing a heart attack. If great pain is combined with a feeling of heavy pressing on the chest, get to the hospital.
Heart attacks are more common during the holidays
For forty years, doctors have known that heart attacks occur significantly more frequently around the time of Christmas and the new year celebrations.
Hospitalizations for heart problems in late December and the first days of January were higher than average forty years ago .
Today, the end of the year is still associated with heart attacks. These hospitalizations are quite likely due to the amount of alcohol consumed during the last ten days of each year.
As well as an increased incidence of heart attacks, relatively harmless incidents of chest pain are more common.
Sometimes, a fluctuating heart rate experienced during the holidays is nothing to worry about.
If one knows that they have a healthy heart, healthy arteries, and nothing wrong with their lymph nodes, a bit of alcohol-related heart fluctuation may be harmless.
It is likely to go away after one stops drinking and sobers up on new year’s day. Alcohol can affect the nervous system in unpredictable ways.
If alcohol causes one’s nervous system to behave erratically, one may briefly experience arrhythmia. A person with a healthy heart can sometimes experience these symptoms when drinking alcohol.
A person who does not have anything close to an alcohol problem can still experience adverse effects when drinking.
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a potentially fatal heart disease caused by long term heavy drinking.
Like many other potentially deadly diseases, it often causes only minor symptoms until it suddenly becomes life-threatening.
Alcoholism causes the heart muscle to increase in size but thin and weaken.
A weak heart will lead to all sorts of health problems as it cannot pump enough blood to the rest of the body.
As the heart weakens further, it can lead to heart failure and death.
Although alcoholic cardiomyopathy is most common in early middle-aged men , it can affect men and women of all ages.
The disease is most common in heavy drinkers.
While anything more than three or four drinks per day or seven or fourteen drinks per week can be unhealthy, those who end up with cardiomyopathy are usually much heavier drinkers.
The disease is dangerous because many people are not aware that they have it until it has progressed dangerously far.
Detecting cardiomyopathy early
If a doctor manages to diagnose a patient with alcohol-related damage to the heart at an early stage of the disease, the patient will often quit drinking and avoid further damage to the body.
Anyone who drinks more than a little, even if they do not consider themselves an alcoholic, should get tested for cardiomyopathy.
Symptoms of the disease are sometimes minor until a heart attack occurs, but there will often be early signs.
Due to a weakening heart and reduced blood flow, a person may experience fainting or at least dizziness.
Reduced blood flow to the brain will cause periodic dizziness. Brain fog can also result from poor blood flow.
One may frequently cough up light colored mucus, or have swelling around the ankles and elsewhere.
More than anything else, the disease will cause a rapid and irregular heartbeat.
Anyone who drinks more than a little and has an irregular heart rate should be concerned and ask a doctor to check for signs of the disease.
How does alcohol damage the heart?
Alcohol is a somewhat toxic substance. It may be possible to enjoy in moderation for a long time, and may even have health benefits for some people, but it is toxic nonetheless.
One can, of course, die from an alcohol drug overdose. Repeatedly exposing the heart to more than a small amount of a poisonous substance will gradually change and weaken it.
A weak heart cannot quickly pump blood out of itself.
This causes the heart to swell up with blood, which causes the heart to grow over the years. An enlarged heart is an unhealthy heart that is on its way to failure.
How can a doctor detect this disease?
Thankfully, it is easy to determine whether or not a person has any alcohol-related damage to the heart. A physical exam and x-rays are enough to either confirm or rule out the disease.
Your doctor may ask you medical questions about alcohol use; one must answer these questions honestly and never understate one’s drinking. After checking your pulse and blood pressure, a doctor will listen to your heart.
Abnormal heart sounds can prove that the heart is either enlarged or has a dysfunctional valve.
A doctor may also check for swelling of the hands and feet. Enlargement of the veins, especially in the neck, is another sign of the disease.
After the physical exam, more technologically advanced tests will determine the degree of damage to the heart muscle.
These tests will include a few different blood tests. A basic metabolic panel will measure the amount of salt, chloride, potassium, and other substances in the blood .
Abnormal levels of these substances can indicate damage to organs and arteries.
A second blood test will detect damage to the liver, as alcoholism often causes liver damage as well. Abnormally low levels of enzymes released by the liver indicate liver damage.
A third test is a cholesterol test, as anyone with a damaged heart may have clogged arteries as well. High cholesterol is thankfully reversible and may disappear without any changes other than avoiding alcohol.
After the physical exam and blood tests are complete, the doctor will move on to X-Rays, which determine the amount of damage done to the heart in more detail.
X-Rays can also diagnose the presence of abnormal fluid in the lungs , which is common if one has a damaged heart.
The doctor will then know in detail how much damage alcohol has done to the heart and other vulnerable parts of the body.
If anyone has damaged their heart by excessive drinking, they must quit rather than cut down on alcohol.
If one is addicted, as a heavy drinker often is, this may be a difficult task, but it must be done.
As well as avoiding alcohol from then on, one might have to avoid salt for the most part.
If the heart is already damaged, a low salt diet will lower one’s blood pressure and reduce strain on the heart.
Much of the damage to the heart may be permanent, but one can still partly recover heart function and prevent further damage.
If a doctor diagnoses the disease at an early stage and treatment begins quickly, one’s odds are better. A doctor may recommend blood pressure-lowering drugs or diuretics to reduce strain on the heart.
If the damage is more serious, one may have to undergo surgery to install a pacemaker .
How can one quit alcohol if they are addicted to it?
Relying purely on will power might but probably will not work. One has to have an actual plan, simply choosing to quit drinking will not work for long.
Alcoholism is a real addiction, and even those who are already suffering from severe alcohol-related health problems may find it challenging to quit.
Significant life changes may be needed to break an alcohol addiction.
If one’s social life depends heavily on drinking, one may have to find new friends or at least new activities.
Social situations in which drinking occurs will have to be avoided. Will power on its own is not going to be enough.
One cannot be around drinking as a recovering alcoholic. One may have to quit many habits they associate with drinking. One can benefit greatly from the support of others.
If one is seriously addicted to alcohol, one can experience painful and even dangerous withdrawal symptoms.
The first 72 hours of withdrawal are the most difficult and can result in seizures for the most addicted .
For this reason, one might want to check themselves into alcohol rehab for a short time to attempt to break their addiction in a different environment.
Only two weeks after quitting, one is likely to see some health improvements. One’s heart function may mostly recover if they quit alcohol, and one’s overall health is sure to improve as well.
6 Shares By The Recovery Village Editor Camille Renzoni Reviewer Jessica Pyhtila Updated on01/27/20
Alcohol withdrawal can cause pain in the chest, including chest tightness. If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol abuse, you might wonder how alcohol affects the heart. Doctors know that alcohol can harm the heart, and often tell their patients to avoid alcohol for this reason. However, it is also crucial for people who drink a lot of alcohol to understand that alcohol withdrawal also harms the heart.
If you stop drinking alcohol suddenly after years of alcohol use, the risk of hurting the heart increases. Alcohol withdrawal may cause uncomfortable chest symptoms that can damage the heart. These symptoms can include chest pain after drinking alcohol or a tight chest after drinking alcohol.
How Does Alcohol Withdrawal Harm the Heart?
Medical researchers continue to study how alcohol withdrawal hurts the heart. Doctors know that alcohol withdrawal can damage the heart, but they are still trying to figure out how this happens. However, most medical professionals do know that people who go into alcohol withdrawal are at risk for certain heart complications. These problems can include:
- Fast heartbeat
- Abnormal heart rhythm
- Spasms in the heart’s blood vessels
- Sudden death
Alcohol and Fast Heartbeat
A rapid heartbeat is a common side effect of alcohol withdrawal syndrome or AWS. Side effects like a fast heartbeat occur because chronic alcohol use changes the chemicals in your brain.
One of the chemicals in your brain, gamma-Aminobutyric acid, or GABA, has a calming effect on the brain. Another chemical in your brain, glutamate, has the opposite effect and excites the brain. When you have been drinking a lot of alcohol for a long time, the effect of GABA in your brain is enhanced, and your brain becomes very sensitive to glutamate.
If you stop drinking suddenly, there will be a lot of glutamate in your brain, and your brain gets over-excited. This stimulation can cause many uncomfortable and sometimes dangerous symptoms, one of which is a fast heartbeat.
Physical symptoms of a fast heartbeat can include:
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Feeling like your heart is pounding
- Shortness of breath
Because AWS can be dangerous, it is important to seek medical help if you struggle with alcohol use and are trying to limit your drinking or stop drinking altogether. An accredited rehab center like The Recovery Village can help you or a loved one overcome alcohol abuse.
Alcohol and Abnormal Heart Rhythm
Medical professionals have noticed that sometimes people experience problems with heartbeats immediately following alcohol consumption. This phenomenon is nicknamed holiday heart syndrome.
Most of the time, an irregular heart rhythm problem is temporary and goes away on its own. However, doctors also believe that in some people, an abnormal heart rhythm can cause severe problems.
Symptoms of heart rhythm problems can include:
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
- Feeling like your heart is beating too fast or too slow
- Feeling like your heart is skipping beats
- Feeling dizzy or lightheaded
- Shortness of breath
- Sweating more than normal
It is imperative to seek medical attention if you have symptoms of heart rhythm problems. If heart issues are left untreated, you could develop potentially fatal complications like a stroke.
Alcohol and Spasms in the Heart’s Blood Vessels
Studies show that alcohol use can cause spasms in the heart’s arteries. Arteries are essential because they are the vessels that carry blood from the heart to all the other organs of the body.
When there is a spasm in the arteries, the blood may not be flowing well from the heart to the rest of your body. Spasms in the arteries can, therefore, be highly dangerous. Spasms can even cause a heart attack. Medical professionals think that the more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of experiencing these spasms.
Although sometimes there will be no symptoms for heart artery spasms, typical symptoms can include:
- Chest pain, pressure or tightness
- Pain that spreads from the chest to the neck, left arm, left shoulder or jaw
The pain of a heart artery spasm occurs because blood flow in your body is impaired. These symptoms are similar to some symptoms of a heart attack. Having this kind of pain is a medical emergency, so seek medical help right away if you or a loved one have any of these symptoms.
Alcohol and Sudden Cardiac Death
People who struggle with chronic alcohol use face a higher risk of sudden death than the population as a whole. Studies show that some of the heart problems related to alcohol use, like heart rhythm problems, are also linked to sudden death.
In addition, blood tests have found that drinking alcohol stresses the heart. One study shows that the heart releases certain chemicals into the bloodstream after heavy drinking. Therefore, sudden death may be caused by other heart problems related to alcohol use. However, doctors are not sure why sudden cardiac death happens in people who struggle with alcohol use, and more research is necessary to understand this issue entirely.
Key Points: Alcohol Withdrawal and Chest Tightness
Important points to remember about alcohol withdrawal and chest tightness include:
- Alcohol withdrawal can increase your risk of heart-related issues
- Heart symptoms after drinking alcohol can include chest tightness and pain
- Heart-related symptoms can be dangerous and may lead to heart attack, stroke or even sudden death
- Seek emergency medical attention if you have chest tightness or pain after alcohol use
If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use and are trying to quit drinking, our professionals at The Recovery Village are here to help you start your path to a healthier life. Contact us today to learn more.
Louis A. Trevisan, M.D., et al. “Complications of Alcohol Withdrawal: Pathophysiological Insights.” Alcohol and Research World, published in 1998. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Denison H, et al. “ST-segment changes and catecholamine-related myocardial enzyme release during alcohol withdrawal.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, published in 1997. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Sohn SM, et al. “Impact of alcohol drinking on acetylcholine-induced coronary artery spasm in Korean populations.” U.S. National Library of Medicine, published in January 2018. Accessed April 15, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Coronary Artery Spasm.” Reviewed August 2, 2017. Accessed April 15, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Alcohol Withdrawal.” Reviewed January 10, 2019. Accessed April 15, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Ventricular Tachycardia.” Reviewed May 16, 2018. Accessed April 15, 2019.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. “Arrhythmia.” (n.d.) Accessed April 15, 2019.
Alexa H. Templeton, et al. “Sudden Unexpected Death in Alcohol Misuse—An Unrecognized Public Health Issue?” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, published in December 2009. Accessed April 15, 2019.
Medical Disclaimer: The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with a substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare provider.
What Does a Hangover Feel Like?
Jump To Section
- Hangover Symptoms
- What Causes a Hangover?
- Hangover Cures
- How long does a hangover last?
Almost everyone who drinks alcohol has had the unpleasant experience of “the morning after.” According to the Alcohol Hangover Research Group, technically, hangover symptoms develop when an individual’s BAC (blood alcohol concentration) drops substantially, and the symptoms peak when the individual’s BAC is near zero. According to Scientific American, it is estimated that nearly three-quarters of individuals who use alcohol will experience some hangover effects at one time or another.
According to a review in the journal Alcohol and Alcoholism, controlled studies have listed the following symptoms of a hangover:
- Impaired cognitive functioning
- Drowsiness as a result of the effect of alcohol on REM sleep
- Feelings of general malaise
- Headache, nausea, stomach ache, and other flulike symptoms
- Feeling dizzy or faint
- Extreme thirst, most likely due to the diuretic effects of alcohol
- Extreme fatigue
- Other autonomic nervous system symptoms, such as racing heart, jitteriness, and perspiration
- Potential symptoms of alcohol withdrawal in individuals with serious alcohol use disorders
- Numerous individual reactions
Have you been drinking?