Excessive alcohol use comes with numerous health risks, but alcoholic cardiomyopathy is especially dangerous. This condition refers to heart palpitations after drinking, which can lead to heart failure and other life-threatening symptoms. Let’s get into what you need to know.
What Is Alcohol-Induced Cardiomyopathy?
It’s no secret that alcohol can have adverse effects on your heart. Over time, excessive alcohol use may weaken the heart muscle, making it challenging to pump blood effectively. When this happens, the heart must expand to hold extra blood. Unfortunately, this process can thin and enlarge the heart, which may cause irreversible damage.
Alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy is a type of heart disease associated with long-term alcohol abuse. It is more common in middle-aged men, but it can also affect women who struggle with heavy drinking.
According to the CDC, heavy drinking in men refers to consuming more than 15 drinks per week (or more than four drinks per day). For women, it’s consuming more than 8 per week (or more than three drinks per day). In most cases, people with alcoholic-induced cardiomyopathy have engaged in heavy drinking for several years.
What Causes Cardiomyopathy?
Cardiomyopathy isn’t just associated with alcohol. For example, children and young adults may develop this condition. Research shows that up to 1 in 500 people have cardiomyopathy. Unfortunately, many times, it is undetected and undiagnosed. With that in mind, even without symptoms, people are still at risk for having sudden cardiac death.
However, excessive drinking is associated with impairing the heart’s capabilities. If the heart cannot pump blood normally, it must expand and enlarge itself to do the same job. Over time, this strain may cause heart failure.
Heavy drinking and being male are the main risk factors for alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy. However, other factors, such as one’s weight, age, preexisting medical conditions, diet, and family history, may exacerbate the risk.
Symptoms may vary in severity based on the intensity of the condition. That said, some common cardiomyopathy symptoms include:
- Chronic feelings of fatigue and weakness.
- Heart palpitations after drinking.
- Irregular heartbeats
- Severe chest pain.
- Fainting episodes.
- Elevated blood pressure.
- Heart murmurs.
- Swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs.
- Shortness of breath.
- Loss of appetite.
- Changes in urination (urinating less often or far more frequently).
- Concentration problems.
It’s important to note that alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy doesn’t always cause specific symptoms. Furthermore, symptoms may progress slowly, and you might assume they are due to something else (like asthma or panic attacks or even stress).
But even just one symptom may indicate problems with the heart. If you struggle with heavy drinking, it’s important to get assessed immediately. Untreated alcohol-induced cardiomyopathy may cause significant heart valve problems, blood clots, heart failure, and death.
A doctor will diagnose cardiomyopathy after conducting a physical exam and evaluating your medical history and diagnostic test results. They may also engage in various procedures, like an EKG, chest X-ray, or echocardiogram test.
It’s crucial to be honest about your drinking history, even if it feels frightening or shameful. Having an accurate diagnosis with an appropriate treatment plan may help save your life.
Alcohol-Induced Cardiomyopathy Treatment
First and foremost, you will need to abstain from alcohol moving forward. Of course, if you struggle with an alcohol use disorder, this recommendation can feel incredibly challenging. Depending on the severity of your addiction, you may benefit from medical detox or inpatient substance use treatment.
Your doctor might also suggest other recommendations, including:
- Taking a diuretic to remove excess water and salt.
- Limiting fluids.
- Adhering to a low-salt diet.
- Taking prescribed beta-blockers to lower blood pressure.
- Using a pacemaker to help support your heart.
If alcoholic cardiomyopathy is diagnosed early and damage is mild, the condition can be reserved. However, in more severe cases, complete recovery may not be possible. That said, it’s essential to stick with your treatment plan and abstain from further alcohol consumption.
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Alcohol abuse can be life-threatening, and severe symptoms can emerge at any time. Waiting for treatment until it’s too late can result in devastating consequences for you or your loved ones.
If you or someone you know is suffering from addiction, please contact one of our addiction specialists and call (866) 578-7471.