Alcoholism And Heart Disease

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There are a couple of myths about alcoholism and heart disease. The first is that because alcohol doesn’t directly attack the heart muscle, it’s relatively harmless for heart disease. The second springs from the false notion that if a little alcohol helps reduce heart disease, more is better.

To explain why these are myths about alcoholism and heart disease, it’s important to understand that heart disease results, not just from damage to the heart directly, but as part of a chain of events that affects the whole body. The truth about alcoholism and heart disease is that it increases the risk for heart disease by raising blood pressure and cholesterol, interfering with circulation by damaging the liver, and by promoting an unhealthy lifestyle. All of these mean that there is a link between alcoholism and heart disease.

The classic example of how alcoholism and heart disease are linked is alcohol’s effect on the liver. Typically, an alcoholic will start to develop fat deposits in the liver. Because the liver filters blood, as the fat starts to clog up the vessels in the liver, the heart has to work harder to push blood through. This extra work can lead to an enlarged heart and eventually congestive heart failure and death. Even though the initial consequences are in the liver, the heart eventually pays the price.

The same type of cascade happens with other body systems. Obesity and a sedentary lifestyle are risks factors for heart disease – alcoholism influences both of these.

Studies have shown that moderate drinking, without other risk factors, can decrease the risk of a heart attack. Unfortunately, the “moderate” here is one drink a day for females and two for males. Alcoholics exceed this level easily. Anyone relying on a “more is better” cliché is fooling themselves.

The known association between alcoholism and heart disease usually isn’t stressed much just because alcoholics have many system failures. Diabetes, hepatitis, pancreatitis and brain damage all appear earlier than severe heart problems. Strokes and heart attacks are just added to this long list. No one is surprised that alcoholism leads to an early and tragic death. In this picture, death from heart disease is just one of many fatal outcomes.

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