Alcohol and Blood Pressure − Heart Health and Prevention Tips

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Cardiovascular health is essential to assessing organs’ optimal function and physical fitness.

Its two major elements, 1) the heart and 2) blood vessels, have a critical role in circulating blood and oxygen throughout the body. Any disruption in this circulation can significantly impact the body’s overall health. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, causing constriction or dilation of blood vessels, leading to circulatory disturbances.

Read on to learn about the link between alcohol and blood pressure, signs and causes and prevention tips to avoid suffering from cardiovascular diseases.

What is Blood Pressure?

Blood pressure, also known as systemic arterial pressure, is the force applied by circulating blood against the walls of the arteries as the heart pumps it through the body. This force is measured in two ways:

  • Systolic pressure: the maximum force exerted on the arterial walls during each heartbeat
  • Diastolic pressure: the minimum pressure on arterial walls during heart relaxation and blood filling

Classification of Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings are classified into different categories based on guidelines established by health organizations as follows:

  • Normal blood pressure: <120/80 mmHg
  • High blood pressure: 120-129/<80 mmHg
  • Hypertension stage 1: 130-139/80-89 mmHg
  • Hypertension stage 2: ≥140/≥90 mmHg
  • Hypotension: <90/60 mmHg

Importance of Blood Pressure

Blood pressure readings are essential to assess a person’s health status due to:

  • Cardiovascular health: Monitor and control blood pressure to reduce cardiovascular diseases
  • Organ function: Adequate blood pressure ensures that organs receive enough oxygen and nutrients
  • Regulation of blood flow: It helps maintain stable blood flow to meet the body’s metabolic demands
  • Risk assessment: It helps assess the risk of developing cardiovascular diseases and treatment decisions

Alcohol is one of the leading risk factors for cardiovascular diseases causing hypertensive heart disease, alcoholic cardiomyopathy, atrial fibrillation and flutter and stroke.

Hypertension, also known as high blood pressure, is a major cause of morbidity and mortality, and it’s mediated by heavy alcohol use, regardless of age or gender. In the U.S., almost half of Americans have been diagnosed with hypertension.

When alcohol intake is excessive or chronic, it can significantly impact cardiovascular health and contribute to the development of hypertension, a heart condition. Moreover, alcohol withdrawal occurs when the individual is deprived of alcohol. Binge drinking and blood pressure is another topic that has recently been studied. In fact, binge drinking was found to be associated with an increased likelihood of developing prehypertension.

Alcohol-induced blood pressure disorders can be classified as:

Primary Hypertension

Primary hypertension, also known as essential hypertension (130-139/80-89 mmHg), usually has no identifiable underlying cause. It develops gradually over time and accounts for about 90-95% of hypertension cases.

However, research suggests there is a clear pathophysiological link between primary hypertension and heavy drinkers coupled with lifestyle habits, such as poor diet and lack of exercise. This happens because:

  • Alcohol stimulates sympathetic activity, raising heart rate and constricting blood vessels
  • Acute alcohol intake may lower blood pressure temporarily; chronic use can lead to persistent vasodilation
  • Chronic alcohol causes vasoconstriction and sodium retention
  • Excessive alcohol intake is linked to weight gain and metabolic syndrome
  • Alcohol can interfere with antihypertensive drugs, worsening hypertension

Secondary Hypertension

Excessive alcohol consumption is linked to numerous medical conditions, such as secondary hypertension (≥140/≥90 mmHg), the least common type of hypertension, and typically caused by underlying medical conditions, such as renal disease, diabetes, obstructive sleep apnea, hypercortisolism, hyperthyroidism or even pregnancy.

In this case, long-term alcohol use may cause:

  • Insulin resistance, obesity, and related complications
  • Heavy alcohol consumption may induce irreversible renal atrophy, potentially leading to hypertension
  • Alcohol intake can also elevate cortisol levels, contributing to secondary hypertension
  • Obesity due to the high-calorie nature of alcohol
  • Alcohol use increases the likelihood of developing obstructive sleep apnea, a secondary cause of hypertension

Hypotension

Heavy alcohol consumption is usually associated with high blood pressure; however, it can lead to reduced blood pressure within the first 12 hours of ingestion. Alcohol consistently increases heart rate at all times within 24 hours of consumption.

Signs and Symptoms of Hypertension

All chronic heavy drinkers are at risk of developing a particular type of elevated blood pressure known as portal hypertension.

This condition occurs when pressure increases within the portal vein, a vital blood vessel that transports blood to the liver from the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, gallbladder, pancreas, and spleen. Portal hypertension typically does not manifest any direct symptoms.

Yet, health complications from this condition may be:

  • A distended abdomen
  • Spleen enlargement
  • Varicose veins in the upper GI tract (esophagus and stomach)
  • Potentially heavy bleeding from damaged varicose veins in the upper GI tract

Hypertension often doesn’t present clear symptoms until it’s severe. However, some signs and symptoms may include:

  • Headaches: Particularly in the back of the head and in the morning
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness: Especially when standing up quickly
  • Nosebleeds: Occasional or frequent
  • Shortness of breath: Particularly during physical exertion
  • Chest pain: Especially during physical activity or emotional stress
  • Visual changes: Blurred or double vision
  • Fatigue: Feeling tired or weak
  • Nausea or vomiting: Present when the case is severe

Alcohol and Blood Pressure − How Much Is It Enough?

According to experts, blood pressure is very easy to alter and can be affected by many activities. Data from seven studies involving over 19,000 adults in the United States, Korea, and Japan back this premise, which revealed that even one drink per day is connected to higher blood pressure compared to non-drinkers.

Therefore, even moderate alcohol intake may influence blood pressure levels.

Blood Pressure and Alcohol Treatment and Prevention Tips

The first and most crucial step to take for alcohol-induced diseases is quitting entirely alcohol intake and starting rehab for alcohol use disorders such as:

  • Alcohol detox, counseling, therapy, support groups and medications to manage withdrawal symptoms
  • If diagnosed with hypertension, follow your healthcare provider’s treatment plan

Prevention Tips for a Healthy Heart

  • Limit alcohol intake to moderate levels (1 drink per day for women and 2 drinks per day for men)
  • Avoid binge drinking
  • Regularly check your blood pressure, especially if you drink alcohol
  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise, a balanced diet and maintaining a healthy weight
  • Reduce sodium intake by avoiding high-sodium foods
  • Try alcohol alternatives
  • Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated, especially when consuming alcohol
  • Be aware of medications you are taking and how they may interact with alcohol

Alcohol and Blood Pressure − Get Help

Alcohol-induced hypertension is a real condition. If you are struggling to moderate alcohol consumption or if you are concerned about your drinking habits, seek professional help. Attending support groups such as AA will also provide the guidance and resources you need.

People Also Ask

Do alcoholics have high blood pressure?

Yes, alcohol consumption can raise blood pressure by increasing sympathetic nervous system activity, causing dehydration, and also leading to weight gain.

Does quitting alcohol lower blood pressure?

Yes, quitting alcohol can lower blood pressure, especially for heavy drinkers. It reduces sympathetic nervous system activity, improves hydration, and may lead to weight loss, reducing blood pressure.

Can alcohol cause low blood pressure?

Yes, sometimes alcohol can cause low blood pressure, particularly when consumed in large amounts or quickly. Alcohol acts as a vasodilator, widening blood vessels and leading to a temporary drop in blood pressure. However, individual responses to alcohol can vary. So the relationship between alcohol and low blood pressure may not be the same for everyone.

Will quitting alcohol lower cholesterol?

Quitting alcohol may lower cholesterol levels, mainly if alcohol consumption is excessive. Alcohol cessation can lead to improvements in liver function and metabolism, reducing levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol and triglycerides.

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Page Sources

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Retrieved on April 17, 2024.

Published on: March 9th, 2018

Updated on: July 4th, 2024

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