How Alcohol Affects the Heart


Salt and Pepper, Ant and Dec, Bacon and Eggs. These are all examples of brilliant combinations that work in perfect harmony. However, alcohol and the heart is not one of these. As it’s Alcohol Awareness Week and we are fast approaching Christmas, what better time is there to raise awareness about the dangers of drinking too much alcohol?

Alcohol & Ireland

Shockingly, the average Irish person spends between €1300-€2000 on alcohol each year. With alcohol consumption at this level, it’s no wonder that Ireland has been identified as a high-risk country for cardiovascular problems.

3 deaths per day in Ireland are linked to alcohol and 1,500 beds in hospitals are occupied by people with alcohol-related issues.

However, we are starting to see positive changes, primarily due to the Irish Heart Foundation’s efforts to limit excessive alcohol consumption. They have been pushing to get a bill passed in Ireland, which seeks to increase the unit price of alcohol, include more health labeling on alcohol products and to regulate the advertising and marketing of alcohol. Last month, this bill had passed all stages and was being sent to the President for signature.

Why is alcohol bad for the heart?  

While a little tipple over Christmas is not likely to cause you much harm, excessive alcohol drinking has many long-term effects associated with it.

High blood pressure is one of the most common long-term effects, which sadly affects around 1 million people in Ireland. Although high blood pressure rarely has noticeable symptoms, it can cause serious health issues if untreated and put strain on the heart, brain, liver, kidneys and eyes. Over time, high blood pressure can also lead to cardiovascular disease, ultimately increasing the risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Heavy drinking can cause the heart muscle to weaken, which leads to a condition called Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy. 9,000 people were lost to cardiovascular disease last year in Ireland, highlighting how the Irish Heart Foundation’s latest alcohol bill is necessary to try and improve survival rates.

Many people are unaware of the number of calories and sugar content in certain types of alcohol. One pint of lager contains 91 calories and 3g of sugar, one glass of prosecco has 114 calories and 2g of sugar and a 50ml glass of Irish cream liqueur has 175 calories and 10g of sugar (the same as two mince pies). High-calorie consumption can lead to weight gain, which again, can put strain on your heart. 6 in 10 adults in Ireland are currently considered overweight or obese.

How much alcohol is too much?

Both men and women are advised not to drink more than 14 units of alcohol each week, preferably spread over 3 or more days. This is equivalent to 6 pints of 4% beer, 6 glasses of 13% wine or 14 glasses of 40% spirit. However, even with these guidelines, there is still a risk of developing health problems if you drink on a regular basis.

In Ireland, 75% of all alcohol is consumed as part of a binge-drinking session, meaning that a huge amount of people are ignoring the recommended amounts and risking their health.

Admittedly, it is easy to go overboard at Christmas when the Bailey’s comes out. However, it is important to keep this as a festive treat, so it doesn’t become a regular occurrence and cause any long-term damage.

Have your say about alcohol and the heart by tweeting us @defibshop_ie.

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