Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: Binge drinking may be hurting your heart

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Authored by Dr. Pradeep Kumar D, Sr. Consultant – Interventional Cardiology, Aster CMI Hospital, Bangalore

Pune, 17 Janauary 2023: A vast majority of people consider binge drinking to be harmless and most even believe that it is key to having a good time. Some people also don’t take alcohol as a drug and even believe that binge drinking is good for our heart too. However, alcohol consumption causes more harm than good and long-term excessive drinking poses a greater risk to the heart and may increase your chances of alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

What is alcoholic cardiomyopathy?

Excessive intake of alcohol often causes hypertension (high blood pressure) that weakens the heart muscles and makes it difficult for the heart to properly pump blood. This causes the heart to expand and become thin to hold more blood which affects the functioning of the blood and heart muscles. If hypertension is left untreated for too long, then it can result in heart failure.

In cases of prolonged intake of alcohol, Cardiomyopathy, a heart muscle disease develops in the heart causing the muscles of the heart to enlarge abnormally. If the cardiomyopathy is left unattended for too long, then the condition can turn potentially fatal and may raise the risk of irregular heartbeats which may trigger congestive heart failure. This condition is usually diagnosed among people of the age group 35 to 50 and men are found to be more prone to it than women.

People who have been heavily consuming alcohol for a period of 5 to 15 years or more are at a high risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Men who consume over 14 drinks per week or 4 drinks per day and women who consume more than three drinks per day or seven drinks per week usually fall under the heavy drinking category and are likely to be more prone to alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

What are the signs and symptoms?

While alcoholic cardiomyopathy does not show any signs or symptoms until it enters the advanced stage. However, patients who are in the advanced stage showcase the followings signs –

1. Fatigue

2. Shortness of breath while resting or exertion

3. Swelling of legs, feet, and ankles

4. Changes in urine

5. Loss of appetite

6. Difficulty in concentrating

7. Weakness, Dizziness, Fainting and Lightheadedness

8. Rapid Pulse

9. Pink mucus discharge while coughing and coughing while lying down

10. Abdominal bloating due to build-up of fluid

11. Pain in the chest

What are the causes of cardiomyopathy?

The causes of cardiomyopathy are often unknown but, in some cases, doctors can identify the possible factors that can cause cardiomyopathy which include –

1. Genetic conditions

2. Increased heart rate and long-term blood pressure

3. Problems in heart valves

4. Damage in heart tissue due to a previous attack

5. Heavy Alcoholism and illicit drug use

6. Obesity, thyroid, and other disorders

7. Complications in pregnancy

What is the diagnosis of cardiomyopathy?

The doctors will conduct the following tests to detect if you are suffering from cardiomyopathy –

1. Chest X-Ray test to detect the enlargement in the heart

2. Echocardiogram to analyze the functioning of the heart valves. In case this is not helping the doctor may also perform Cardiac Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI)

3. Electrocardiogram (ECG) to detect any blockages in the heart and abnormalities in heartbeats

4. Treadmill stress test is performed to check if exercise is aggravating abnormal heart rhythms

5. Cardiac Catheterization is performed to check if the heart is forcefully pumping the blood in the body

6. CT scans are performed to assess the size and functioning of the heart and its valves

7. Blood tests are performed to assess the iron levels in the body and to check the thyroid, kidney, and liver function

8. To check if the disease is congenital, the doctors also perform a genetic test to check if the condition is hereditary in parents and siblings.

What are the treatment options for cardiomyopathy?

The treatment options for cardiomyopathy vary depending on the type and severity of the condition.

– In cases of dilated cardiomyopathy, the doctors may treat the condition by prescribing medications to improve heart function. However, if the condition turns severe then our doctor may recommend surgical implants.

– In restrictive cardiomyopathy, your doctor may prescribe medication to lower blood pressure and will recommend paying attention to high blood pressure levels, monitoring salt and water intake and keeping a track of your body weight.

– In severe cases of cardiomyopathy, your doctor will recommend Ventricular Assist Devices (VADs) or a heart transplant.

What measures can you adopt to keep alcoholic cardiomyopathy at bay?

There are several steps that you can take to reduce your risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy –

1. Restrict or practice complete abstinence from alcohol

2. Reduce or cut down on sodium intake

3. Limit your fluid intake to reduce the pressure on your heart

4. Get ample exercise and if you have a heart condition or if you are a heart patient then you should avoid strenuous workout

5. Abstain from smoking

6. Limit the intake of sugar, saturated fats, and processed foods

7. Maintain a healthy BMI

How much is too much?

While some studies have defined binge drinking or occasional drinking good for health, however, avoiding alcohol is best. It is not a wise idea to start drinking alcohol to reduce the risk of heart disease. Instead, one must find different alternatives like doing yoga etc. that are beneficial for health.

In simpler terms, drinking alcohol is just not worth it and its potential small benefits to our heart are outweighed by its increased risk of developing serious illnesses like cancer or liver diseases. Therefore, if you wish to live a long and healthy life then you should opt for safer ways like regular exercise, a healthy diet, etc. to reduce the risk of developing heart disease.