Drinking Too Much of This Popular Beverage Can Ruin Your Heart, Experts Warn
It can increase your heart rate, raise your blood pressure, and weaken your heart muscles.
Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death in the U.S., accounting for one in every four mortalities. So protecting your heart is perhaps the most important thing you can do for your health and longevity. Most people know that by eating well, exercising, quitting smoking, managing stress, and controlling your cholesterol and blood pressure, you can make significant strides toward a healthier heart. But there's one more key factor that can make or break your heart health that often goes unrecognized. Experts now say that drinking a popular beverage can hurt your heart in more ways than one. Read on to learn the four surprising ways you may be damaging your heart with a particular beverage.
Alcohol can increase your heart rate.
Most healthy adults have a resting heart rate of between 60 and 100 beats per minute (BPM). However, each alcoholic drink you consume can increase your heart rate by five beats per minute, reports The New York Times. "Experts say that for most healthy adults, a temporary increase in heart rate caused by one or two drinks is probably not something to worry about," the newspaper reports. "But it could be problematic for people who have conditions that cause irregular heart rhythms, such as atrial fibrillation or other types of arrhythmias, or for those who are at high risk for heart attacks or strokes," the Times adds.
While light, occasional drinking may have minimal effect, frequent or heavy drinking can trigger episodes of atrial or supraventricular tachycardia (SVT), a condition in which heart beats faster than 100 beats per minute. According to the American Heart Association, this can cause fainting, dizziness, chest pressure, tightness or pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. In severe cases, a person with this type of tachycardia may become unconscious or go into cardiac arrest, the organization warns.
It can also increase your blood pressure.
Managing your blood pressure is a key aspect of your heart health. That's because hypertension can lead to the hardening and thickening of the arteries, and is considered a risk factor for heart attack and stroke. However, for those who drink too much or too often, this can be difficult to do. According to the Mayo Clinic, "drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily raises your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases."
Their experts suggest that if you already have high blood pressure, you should "avoid alcohol or drink alcohol only in moderation. For healthy adults, that means up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men," the health organization writes.
Alcohol can weaken your heart muscles.
Experts also warn that drinking too much alcohol can put you at risk of a condition known as alcoholic cardiomyopathy. The Cleveland Clinic explains that this is a form of damage to the heart muscle, which occurs "because parts of your heart stretch and enlarge. That weakens your heart muscle, keeping it from pumping as well as it should. Over time, this means your heart can't pump blood as effectively, which reduces your body's available oxygen supply," their experts write. When this happens, it's known as congestive heart failure, a condition in which the heart doesn't pump enough oxygen-rich blood to meet the needs of the body.
In some cases, weakened heart muscles can lead to atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the heart cannot pump all of the blood in the atria into the next chamber, causing it to pool. This can lead to blood clots, which can ultimately trigger stroke.
The Cleveland Clinic notes that alcoholic cardiomyopathy can affect anyone who drinks alcohol—not just alcoholics.
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It can also cause an irregular heartbeat.
In part due to these weakened heart muscles, drinking alcohol can also trigger an irregular heartbeat, the Clinic says. Their experts explain that when the heart muscles weaken, they can stretch like a rubber band, changing the heart's shape. "Changes in your heart's shape can also disrupt that organ's electrical system. An electrical current travels through your entire heart with every heartbeat, causing each part of the heart to squeeze in a specific sequence. Your heart's shape is part of how that timing works, and when parts of your heart stretch, it can disrupt that timing [causing arrhythmia]. If it takes too long—even by tiny fractions of a second—that delay can cause your heart to beat out of sync (a problem called dyssynchrony)."
If you're concerned about your own heart health or drinking habits, now is the time to take charge. Speak with your doctor about whether your own patterns with alcohol may be putting you at higher risk of heart attack, stroke, or any other serious condition.