Heart disease risk increases with both smoking and alcohol use – certainly you have heard the warnings, but most people don’t understand just how much of an effect alcohol really has on the heart and the cardiovascular system. Binge drinkers and chronic drinkers are putting a lot of stress on the heart muscle, the veins and arteries, and the blood vessels.
While it may seem like you can drink hard for a long time before developing and the negative effects of drinking, cardiovascular problems can show up after only 5-10 years of problematic drinking.
Heart Palpitations and Alcohol
Drinking alcohol – even in moderation – has been shown to increase the risk of atrial fibrillation (irregular heartbeat), according to a recent study not only is the risk for atrial fibrillation and atrial flutter increased with alcohol use, but the study also showed that with atrial fibrillation comes a 500% increase in the risk for strokes, 300% increase in risk for heart failure, 200% increase in the risk of dementia, and you have a 40-90% increased risk of premature death.
Simply put, more recent studies have shown that even moderate alcohol use can have a negative effect on the heart. Those that abuse alcohol, binge drink, or drink heavy amounts of alcohol are really putting themselves at risk and should consider cutting down or quitting.
Types of Irregular Heartbeats Associated with Alcohol Abuse
The heart is a complex organ, and the cardiovascular system works as a balanced system in a healthy body, but there are plenty of places for an issue to arise. Depending on where the arrhythmia originates, there are many different types of irregular heartbeats that could be at play, including:
- Premature Atrial Contractions
- Premature Ventricular Contractions (PVCs)
- Atrial Fibrillation (A-Fib)
- Atrial Flutter
- Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia
- Accessory Pathway Tachycardias
- AV Nodal Reentrant Tachycardia
- Ventricular Tachycardia (V-Tach)
- Ventricular Fibrillation
- Long QT Syndrome
- Sinus Node Dysfunction
- Heart Block
However, the severity of an arrhythmia changes depending on what type it is, what it was caused by, and how bad the damage is. When it comes to arrhythmias in a person with a history of alcohol abuse, there is a higher chance that the alcohol is directly tied to the irregular heartbeat. Therefore, there is a higher chance of reversing an arrhythmia due to alcohol abuse, if alcohol can be cut out completely.
Alcohol and Arrhythmias: Can You Reverse the Damage?
The answer to this question must be confirmed with a doctor – as each case is different, and there is a small window of opportunity to reverse the damage done by alcohol. We can say for certain that quitting alcohol will slow the progression of nearly all common forms of alcohol-induced heart problems, and many “innocent” murmurs and heart palpitations caused by alcohol can be reversed completely.
The first thing you need to do is go to your doctor and have them perform a physical exam. Your doctor may recommend an electrocardiogram, either an ECG or an EKG. In order to diagnose an arrhythmia, your doctor may also utilize the following tests:
- Holter Monitor (A type of portable EKG monitor that you wear for several days or up to a week)
- Event Monitor (A type of portable EKG monitor that you wear for several weeks or months)
- Stress Test
- Echocardiogram (ultrasound)
- Cardiac Catheterization
- Electrophysiology Study
- Head-up Tilt Table Tests
If the doctor does find and diagnose an arrhythmia, you will also be given a prognosis and recommended a treatment plan. Depending on the type and severity of the arrhythmia, it may be recommended that you have ablation, heart surgery, or a pacemaker installed – in the cases of more serious irregular heartbeats. In less serious cases, a simple change of diet and exercise may be enough to reverse or slow the progression of the disease.
My Doctor Says I have an Arrhythmia Due to Alcohol Abuse that Can be Reversed if I Change My Lifestyle – How do I Begin?
If you have an alcohol-induced arrhythmia that your doctor has told you can be reversed, you should count yourself very lucky, and commit to changing your lifestyle. This will mean cutting out any alcohol intake, making healthier eating choices and getting moderate exercise.
Again, you really do have to be committed to a lifestyle change in order to recover from alcohol-related heart issues. This can be a tough change for some to make. Committing to diet and exercise changes alone can be difficult, but it is often when a doctor tells you that you need to cut alcohol completely out of your life, that many find they cannot quit or even cut down their alcohol intake.