Alcohol Abuse and Heart Problems

If people drink alcohol excessively, it can lead to many health problems. It is well known that alcohol abuse leads to liver problems, but it can also have a devastating impact on the heart. One of the problems that may arise as a result of overindulgence in alcohol is alcoholic cardiomyopathy. It is not necessary for the individual to be an alcoholic before they begin developing the symptoms of this condition. In many cases, alcoholic cardiomyopathy will have already progressed to an advanced stage before the symptoms become noticeable. The only way of preventing this heart problem from developing is to avoid alcohol abuse.

The Heart Explained

A functioning heart is vital for human survival. This organ works like a pump to ensure that blood reaches every part of the body. It needs to push blood through a network of tubes that would stretch 60,000 miles if laid end to end. The heart is made up of four chambers and has its own electrical system. It is the size of a human fist and weighs roughly 7-15 ounces. Anything that gets in the way of the heart’s ability to pump blood puts the whole organism in danger.

How Alcohol Damages the Heart

Excessive alcohol is highly toxic to the heart. It can cause many types of damage, including the following problems:

* Inflammation
* Coronary vasospasm
* Free radical damage to the heart
* Inhibited protein synthesis
* Activation of the renin-angiotensin system, this is a hormone based system that regulates water levels and blood pressure in the body.
* Disruption of membrane structure
* Anomalies to receptors
* Fatty acid ester accumulation

Cause of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy develops because people drink excessively. Alcohol is a toxin and in large doses it starts to do damage to the body organs. The heart becomes enlarged and the muscle starts to thin. This means that the heart is no longer able to do its job properly; it can no longer pump effectively. If alcoholic cardiomyopathy is allowed to progress, it can lead to lethal arrhythmias or congestive heart failure.

Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

The symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy can include:

* Feeling of tiredness most of the time
* Problems with breathing when lying down
* Waking up because of shortness of breath
* Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs
* Swelling in other parts of the body
* Decreased production of urine
* The need to urinate during the middle of the night
* A cough that produces sputum with a pink tinge
* Fast or irregular pulse
* Shortness of breath that develops with activity
* Palpitations where the individual can feel their heart beating in their chest
* Loss of appetite
* Difficulty concentrating

These symptoms might not appear until the individual has reached an advanced stage of the disease.

Diagnosis of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

There are a number of tests that may be used to detect cardiomyopathy including:

* An ECG
* Chest x-ray
* Echocardiogram
* Angiogram
* Cardiac cauterization
* Irregular heart sounds

If the individual shows signs of cardiomyopathy, and they have a history of alcohol abuse, this will lead to a diagnosis of alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

Treatment of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be mostly reversed if detected early]( Once the heart is badly damaged, then the prognosis will be poor and the condition will be irreversible. The treatment of alcoholic cardiomyopathy is mostly aimed at preventing further deterioration and includes:

* Medications such as beta blockers, ace inhibitors and diuretics. These drugs will help to reduce the strain on the heart
* Lifestyle changes including complete abstinence from alcohol
* Nutritional deficiencies then these will need to be dealt with
* There may be a need to put the individual on a low sodium diet and fluid restriction.
* Some individuals may require a pace maker
* It might also be necessary to install an implantable defibrillator (ICD)
* In some cases the only effective treatment will be a heart transplant

Other Heart Problems Associated with Alcohol Abuse

As well as causing alcoholic cardiomyopathy there are other ways that alcohol abuse can lead to heart problems, including:

* Those people who drink too much alcohol can develop high blood pressure. This not only puts added pressure on the heart but also other body organs as well.
* Excessive alcohol intake increases the likelihood of developing diabetes, and this can also lead to cardiovascular problems later on.
* People who drink too much will often have a higher triglygeride level. This means there will be excessive fat floating around in the blood stream and causing problems.

Escaping Alcohol Addiction

Many of those individuals who develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy will be physically and mentally dependent on alcohol. This means that it can be a real struggle for them to give up drinking without help. If they fail to abstain it will mean death so it may be necessary for them to get support for ending their addiction. These are some of the treatment options available:

* Rehab will help the individual escape their addiction and will provide them with the tools they need to stay sober.
* Recovery fellowships like Alcoholics Anonymous will provide the individual with a program that they can use to build a strong sobriety.
* An addiction therapist can help the individual examine their addiction, and suggest an appropriate path into recovery.

The serious nature of alcoholic cardiomyopathy means that the individual needs to take action right away to end their addiction. Failure to do so will be putting their life in danger.

How to Prevent Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

The key to preventing alcoholic cardiomyopathy is to only ever drink sensible amounts of alcohol. This means two drinks per day for adult men, and one drink per day for adult women. Those who are aged over 65 years of age should also stick to one drink per day. In this case, a drink would be considered a glass of wine, a standard beer, or a standard shot of spirits. If people find it hard to control their drinking they should choose complete abstinence.