Effects of alcohol on the heart

Curr Opin Crit Care. 2001 Oct;7(5):337-43. doi: 10.1097/00075198-200110000-00004.


Some evidence suggests that light to moderate alcohol consumption protects against cardiovascular diseases. However, this cardioprotective effect of alcohol consumption in adults is absent at the population level. Approximately 20 to 30% of patients admitted to a hospital are alcohol abusers. In medical practice, it is essential that patients' levels of consumption are known because of the many adverse effects that might result in the course of routine care. Ethanol damage to the heart is evident if alcohol consumption exceeds 90 to 100 g/d. Heavy ethanol consumption leads to increased risk for sudden cardiac death and cardiac arrhythmias. In patients with coronary heart disease, alcohol use was associated with increased mortality. An early response to drinking was an increased ventricular wall thickness to diameter ratio, possibly proceeding with continuous drinking to alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which had a worse outcome compared with idiopathic dilative cardiomyopathy if drinking was not stopped or at least reduced (< 60 g/d). In the ICU, patients with chronic alcoholism have more cardiac complications postoperatively. These complications probably are caused by biventricular dysfunction, particularly with the occurrence of severe infections or septic shock, events that are three to four times more frequent among chronic alcoholics than occasional drinkers or nondrinkers. To prevent further complications from drinking and for long-term management of drinking, patients with alcohol abuse and heart failure should be treated in brief intervention and follow-up programs. Prognosis is good even in patients with New York Heart Association class IV heart failure caused by cardiomyopathy if complete abstinence is accomplished. Noncompliance to smoking and alcohol restrictions, which are amenable to change, dramatically increases the risk for hospital readmissions among patients with heart failure.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Alcohol Drinking*
  • Alcoholism / complications
  • Europe / epidemiology
  • Heart / drug effects*
  • Heart Diseases / epidemiology
  • Heart Diseases / etiology
  • Heart Rate / drug effects
  • Humans
  • Intensive Care Units
  • United States / epidemiology