Other Health Issues
Existing health Issues
There are a number of medical conditions that could get worse if you drink too many units of alcohol. Alcohol also potentially becomes more harmful as you get older. Typical health problems affected by drinking alcohol are:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure) is common in very heavy drinkers; if you have high blood pressure, reducing your drinking to the lower risk levels can bring your blood pressure down.
- If you’re diabetic, your doctor may advise you to drink less as part of a balanced, calorie-controlled diet, as alcohol has a lot of calories. If your diabetes is treated with tablets or insulin, drinking could be more dangerous: your doctor can advise you based on your diabetes treatment and any other medication you take.
- If you’ve already had a heart attack, drinking could put you at greater risk of high blood pressure and further damage to your heart.
- There’s a strong link between heavy drinking and depression or anxiety; alcohol works as a depressant drug on your nervous system. A hangover will often include anxiety and feeling low.
Risks from drinking alcohol increase as you get older
Older drinkers are more likely to have a bad hangover, due to changes in your body like decreasing water content and an increase in body fat. From the age of 20 onwards, your ratio of muscle to fat reduces, which means the same amount of alcohol will stay in your body for longer and be more concentrated. As you get older, not only are you less able to process alcohol, but if you fall you’re more likely to seriously injure yourself.
How is alcohol linked to heart problems?
Alcohol can alter your hormone levels and nerve activity, so that your heart tends to pump harder. It can also interfere with your arteries. Both factors lead to high blood pressure, a major risk factor for heart disease or heart attack.
Drinking too many units of alcohol can interfere with the workings of your heart, causing an irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) or enlargement of the heart. Either of these conditions can lead to heart failure over time or a sudden heart attack.
Drinking can interfere with your heart’s electrical conduction and how its cells work. This can cause an irregular heartbeat, which can lead to heart failure or a heart attack. It can even cause sudden death. If your heart becomes enlarged, it’s unable to pump effectively, and can cause loss of energy or heart failure, with shortness of breath. This condition is not completely curable but if you stop drinking you can help minimise further damage. Drinking large amounts of alcohol can lead to very enlarged and failing heart that may even need a heart transplant.
Can drinking increase your risk of heart disease?
Both men and women who are higher risk drinkers could be more than twice as likely to suffer heart rhythm problems; you could also have an increased risk of coronary heart disease.
High blood pressure
Drinking can affect your heart and blood vessels, causing high blood pressure (hypertension). Hypertension can contribute to other conditions like enlargement of the heart, heart rhythm problems, heart attacks and stroke.
How is alcohol linked to high blood pressure?
Alcohol can alter your hormone levels and the activity of the nerves regulating your heart, making it pump harder. Alcohol can also interfere with your arteries (the vessels taking blood and oxygen from your heart all around your body), which can make them stiffer. If your heart is beating harder, and your blood vessels are stiffer, this leads to high blood pressure.
There are often no immediate symptoms or problems experienced with high blood pressure, but it can play a big part in the development of other conditions, particularly stroke or heart disease. These can come on without warning and be very severe.
Having high blood pressure means your heart has to work harder to pump blood around your body. This can weaken it over time and the pressure generated can damage your arteries. These changes can lead to blockages (clots) or splits (haemorrhages) in the arteries, which could cause heart attack or stroke.
Can drinking increase your risk of high blood pressure?
You’re more likely to suffer with high blood pressure if you regularly drink more than the NHS recommends. For example, men who are increasing risk drinkers have nearly twice the risk of high blood pressure, whilst higher risk drinkers could be four times more likely to suffer.