Moderate drinking has risks and benefits, heavy drinking heightens short- and long-term risk of heart attack, stroke

March 2, 2016, American Heart Association

Drinking alcohol is associated with an immediate higher risk of suffering a heart attack or stroke. The risk lessens and can become protective after 24 hours for moderate drinking but remains high for heavy drinking, according to research presented at the American Heart Association's Epidemiology and Prevention/Lifestyle 2016 Scientific Sessions.

The study, a systematic review and dose-response meta-analysis of previous research, will also be published simultaneously in the American Heart Association's journal Circulation.

"There appears to be a transiently higher risk of heart attack and strokes in the hours after drinking an alcoholic beverage but within a day after drinking, only heavy intake seems to pose a higher cardiovascular risk," said Elizabeth Mostofsky, Sc.D., study lead author, instructor at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and post-doctoral fellow at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, Massachusetts.

Previous research has described cardiovascular risks following moderate and heavy alcohol consumption, but the immediate risks have not been well documented.

"Ours is the first to synthesize all the available information to gain new knowledge on the acute risk of heart attacks and strokes in the hours after drinking and the risk in the following week for different amounts of alcohol consumed," Mostofsky said.

Researchers analyzed evidence on the risk of heart attacks and strokes in the hours and days after drinking alcohol from 23 studies that included nearly 30,000 participants.

Immediately following alcohol intake, there are both harmful and protective physical responses. Within one to three hours, a single dose of alcohol increases heart rate and disrupts the heart's normal pacing but by 24 hours, improves blood flow, blood vessels' lining function and reduces clotting.

Moderate drinking - up to six drinks a week in this study - was associated with an immediately higher cardiovascular risk but within a day was considered protective and associated with a lower risk of a having heart attack or stroke from bleeds and within the week was associated with a lower risk of strokes from clots.

However, heavy alcohol use was associated with higher and stroke risks at all times studied: six to nine drinks in a day nearly doubled the risk and 19 to 30 drinks in a week elevated the risk by up to six times more.

Heavy drinking is typically described for men as consuming 15 or more drinks per week and more than 8 drinks per week for women. According to the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans, moderate drinking is up to 1 drink per day for women and up to 2 drinks per day for men.

"Just after drinking, blood pressure rises and blood platelets become stickier, increasing the risk of heart attacks and strokes," Mostofsky said. "However, regularly drinking small amounts of alcohol in the long term appears to both increase levels of HDL cholesterol (high density lipoprotein cholesterol), the so-called good cholesterol, and reduce the tendency to form blood clots."

"If you drink alcohol, do so in moderation," she said.

Likewise, the American Heart Association recommends consuming alcohol in moderation if you already drink but cautions people to not start drinking and consult your doctor on your risks and benefits of consuming alcohol in moderation.

Explore further: Light-to-moderate drinking good for your heart, researchers say

Related Stories

Light-to-moderate drinking good for your heart, researchers say

February 18, 2016
People who drink wine, liquor or beer regularly are less prone to heart failure and heart attacks than those who rarely or never drink. Three to five drinks a week can be good for your heart.

Moderate drinking in later years may damage heart

May 26, 2015
Drinking two or more alcoholic beverages daily may damage the heart of elderly people, according to research in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging. The study correlated weekly alcohol ...

Heavy drinking may strain the heart

November 10, 2015
(HealthDay)—Heavy drinking may dramatically increase a person's risk of heart failure, even if they're young and healthy, a new study suggests.

Light/moderate drinking linked to increased risk of some cancers in women and male smokers

August 18, 2015
Even light and moderate drinking (up to one drink a day for women and up to two drinks a day for men) is associated with an increased risk of certain alcohol related cancers in women and male smokers, suggests a large study ...

Six things that raise your blood pressure

February 17, 2016
Keeping your pressure under control can mean adding things to your life, like exercise, that help lower it. But, you may not realize that it also means avoiding things that raise your pressure. A healthy blood pressure level ...

Brain scans show long-term effects of heavy drinking

January 5, 2016
Something to mull over: New technology reveals how excessive drinking causes lasting damage to your brain.

Recommended for you

Higher risk of heart attack on Christmas Eve

December 12, 2018
The risk of heart attack peaks at around 10pm on Christmas Eve, particularly for older and sicker people, most likely due to heightened emotional stress, finds a Swedish study in this week's Christmas issue of The BMJ.

Your weight history may predict your heart failure risk

December 12, 2018
In a medical records analysis of information gathered on more than 6,000 people, Johns Hopkins Medicine researchers conclude that simply asking older adult patients about their weight history at ages 20 and 40 could provide ...

Age is the biggest risk for heart disease, but lifestyle and meds have impact

December 12, 2018
Of all the risk factors for heart disease, age is the strongest predictor of potential trouble.

New understanding of mysterious 'hereditary swelling'

December 12, 2018
For the first time ever, biomedical researchers from Aarhus University, Denmark, report cellular defects that lead to a rare disease, hereditary angioedema (HAE), in which patients experience recurrent episodes of swelling ...

Macrophage cells key to helping heart repair—and potentially regenerate, new study finds

December 11, 2018
Scientists at the Peter Munk Cardiac Centre have identified the type of cell key to helping the heart repair and potentially regenerate following a heart attack.

Researchers have found that incidence of heart failure was around two-fold higher in people with diabetes

December 11, 2018
Researchers have found that incidence of heart failure was around two-fold higher in people with diabetes.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.