Alcoholism can lead to many serious health issues. One of these issues is called alcoholic cardiomyopathy. You may not have heard of this disease, as it isn’t as talked about as other diseases that alcoholism can cause, such as cirrhosis of the liver. However, it is very serious and can lead to life-threatening complications.
What Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscles that occurs from excessively drinking alcohol over a long period. Cardiomyopathy weakens the heart, making it more difficult for it to pump blood. Heart muscles can become hard and swollen, and this can lead to irregular heart rates and eventually heart failure, which can be fatal.
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Alcoholic cardiomyopathy occurs after chronic and long-term alcohol abuse.
How Do You Get Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?
One in 500 people has cardiomyopathy. A person can get it genetically, as a side effect from other diseases, or when toxins, like alcohol, are introduced to the body. Since genetics can play a part in developing cardiomyopathy, those who are already predisposed to the condition and have a long-term alcohol problem may develop the disease more easily.
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is found more in men who are between the ages of 35 and 50, but women can also be diagnosed with the disease.
Alcohol is toxic to the heart muscles.
Those who drink alcohol excessively over time can lose the ability to successfully contract the ventricles of the heart. This weakening of heart muscles causes difficulties in pumping blood efficiently. Soon all parts of your heart—ventricles, atria—become affected by the thinning and enlargement of the heart.
Alcoholics who also have high blood pressure, diabetes, thyroid disease, and other underlying issues might be at an even higher risk for developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
What Are the Symptoms?
Sometimes symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy may not show up until the disease has advanced. Symptoms to look for include:
- Shortness of breath
- Trouble breathing while lying down
- Body swelling
- Trouble focusing
- Increased nighttime urination
- Rapid heartbeat
- Bloating of the abdomen
If you have any of these symptoms and are a chronic alcohol drinker, please see your doctor right away. Early diagnosis is critical in the treatment of cardiomyopathy.
How Can It Be Avoided In The First Place?
If you are genetically prone to cardiomyopathy, you may not be able to prevent it. However, steps can be taken to lower the risks of complications, including decreasing alcohol intake.
For those who do not have inherited cardiomyopathy, abstaining from or drinking rarely will severely reduce and, in most cases, prevent you from getting this disease. Staying away from alcohol will increase your chances of being able to avoid having cardiomyopathy.
Other ways to reduce the risk of developing cardiomyopathy are regular exercise, getting enough sleep, reducing stress, healthy diet, and controlling diseases like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and diabetes.
How Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?
If you believe that you have alcoholic cardiomyopathy, you must schedule an appointment with your primary care physician immediately. They will give you a physical exam, during the appointment, and take your pulse and blood pressure, as well as listening to your lungs and heart.
During the exam, a doctor will identify specific factors that relate to an alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosis. Factors that can determine this diagnosis and what they will look for include a heart murmur, an enlarged heart, sounds of congestion in your heart or lungs, swelling in the jugular veins in your neck, or swelling in the feet, ankles, or legs.
In addition to the physical, your physician will ask about your medical history, which will include your history of alcohol usage.
Lab testing and diagnostic imaging will be conducted, as well. Lab testing cannot accurately determine an alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosis, but it can help identify any organ damage. X-rays or CT scans are used to detect congestion or fluid in the lungs and an enlarged heart. The electrocardiograms can identify disruption in the heart.
Can Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Be Reversed? If So, How?
Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be reversed. Studies have found that those diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy who quit drinking alcohol not only noticed improvements in the functioning of their heart but also saw a complete reversal. Once diagnosed, it will be recommended that you quit drinking alcohol.
Abstinence will be imperative for a full recovery. Becoming sober can be a challenging feat for some people, but with an outcome like a complete reversal, it will be worth the hard work. You must make changes in your diet and focus on exercise if you want the chance of reversing such a serious disorder. Doctors may also prescribe ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers to manage your high blood pressure.
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What Treatment Options Are There?
As previously stated, the first step in treatment will be abstaining from alcohol. Since alcoholic cardiomyopathy comes after years of alcohol usage, your doctor may recommend an addiction treatment rehab program.
These rehab programs offer therapy, groups, sometimes access to support meetings, while under the watchful eye of medical professionals. They help with the transition to a sober life.
You might be asked to go on a healthy diet. This diet may consist of lean meats and fish, beans, and low-fat dairy products. You will also want to increase your fruit and vegetable intake and make sure at least half of your grain intake comes from whole-grain products. Salt can increase the risk of high blood pressure, so you should limit your salt intake as well.
Lifestyle changes such as quitting smoking, losing excess weight, getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, and reducing stress will also help treat alcoholic cardiomyopathy.
Medication will also be necessary for treatment. Your doctor might prescribe medicines that lower blood pressure, such as ACE inhibitors, beta-blockers, and calcium channel blockers. Another medicine typically prescribed is antiarrhythmic agents, which help prevent an irregular heartbeat. Additional drugs used to treat cardiomyopathy are aldosterone blockers, diuretics, blood thinners, and corticosteroids.
Depending on the severity of cardiomyopathy, surgery might be a treatment option. Doctors may recommend open-heart surgery or even a heart transplant to replace the diseased heart. Surgically implanted devices like pacemakers, cardiac resynchronization therapy devices, left ventricular assist devices, and implantable cardioverter defibrillators, can aid in making the heart work better.
National Institute of Health. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy. Retrieved from from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5013142/
Healthline. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy and Your Health. Retrieved from from https://www.healthline.com/health/alcoholism/cardiomyopathy
Medscape. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy. Retrieved from from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/152379-overview
Alcohol Toxicity. (2019, May 31). Retrieved from from https://emedicine.medscape.com/article/812411-overview
Alcoholism and Alcohol Abuse. (2019, July 23). Retrieved from from https://medlineplus.gov/alcoholismandalcoholabuse.html