Heavy drinking may cause heart damage before symptoms appear

By American Heart Association News

Tetra Images, Getty Images
(Tetra Images, Getty Images)

Heavy drinking could lead to heart tissue damage even before concerning symptoms arise, according to a new study.

The results back previous studies that have shown too much alcohol intake can increase the risk of heart failure, high blood pressure, heart attack, arrhythmias, stroke and death.

"By measuring the level of certain molecules in the blood, we were able to find that heavy drinkers are much more likely to have heart damage (before symptoms occur) than people who drink less heavily," study author Olena Iakunchykova said in a news release. She is a candidate in community medicine at the University in Tromsø, The Arctic University of Norway.

In the study – published Wednesday in the Journal of the American Heart Associationresearchers examined blood samples from 2,525 adults ages 35-69 from 2015 to 2018. Nearly all the participants were from the general population of Arkhangelsk, a city in northwest Russia. The remaining 278 participants were being treated for alcoholism at a local psychiatric hospital.

Researchers categorized adults based on their self-reported consumption, defining heavy drinking as: having six or more drinks on one occasion; feeling hungover or drunk; needing a drink first thing in the morning; having lives disrupted because of drinking; or having a family member or loved one concerned about the drinking.

Blood samples were tested for proteins and hormones that indicated three types of problems: heart injury, stretching of the heart wall and inflammation.

Compared to people in the general population without a drinking problem, the samples from hospital patients – those with the heaviest drinking habits – had 10.3% more evidence of potential heart injury, 46.7% higher blood markers showing possible stretching of the heart wall and 69.2% higher markers for inflammation.

Those in the general population who reported more frequent alcohol intake showed signs of 31.5% more stretching of the heart wall.

Because the study was limited to one location and only examined participants of Eastern European or Russian decent, researchers noted the results cannot be generalized to other populations.

Iakunchykova said she and her colleagues are now studying ultrasound images of the heart as it beats to help identify the types of heart damage linked to heavy drinking.

"Our results suggest that people who drink heavily are creating higher-than-normal levels of inflammation in their bodies that have been linked to a wide range of health conditions, including cardiovascular disease," Iakunchykova said.

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