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Avatar universal

alcohol and the heart

Hello.  I am 37 years old, female diagnosed with mitral valve prolapse at age 19.  I had an echo about a year ago and the only thing that showed up was a slightly lower EF - 47%.  The doctor asked me how much alcohol I consume, and I told her 3-4 glasses of wine per day.  She said that this is too much, and could be weakening my heart.  My questions are these:  I thought a person had to be an alcoholic (i.e. drink all day every day, or close to it) to get alcoholic cardiomyopathy.  Is this not true?  How much alcohol is generally considered safe for the heart?  Could there be some other cause, possibly a bad bout of the flu that I had a couple years ago which caused this weakining?  Anything you can tell me about the effects of alcohol on the heart would be greatly appreciated.

15 Responses
Avatar universal
Dear skye,

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can occur with only moderate consumption of alcohol on a regular basis over a prolonged period of time.  Most studies that show caridac benefits to alcohol show the most benefit with about 1 drink a day.  I would tend to agree with your doctor that you should consider a trial period off alcohol and see how your heart does.  It is possible that you may have a viral cardiomyopathy but it is difficult to prove.  If you have an improvement of your cardiac function off the alcohol you will have your answer.
Avatar universal
Hi Skye,

I am impressed that you doctor asked the question.  Many doctors are not very informed about alcohol and avoid challenging their patients on alcohol usage.

I have read a lot about heart disease and alcohol.  I too drank 3 to 4 drinks almost every night and was suprised to find out that much is considered heavy drinking from a medical standpoint.

I think that 1 glass of red wine each night might be heathful, but anything more is not.  

I found that I had settled into the 3 to 4 drinks per night habit and couldn't cut back to one drink.  I just craved it too much.

Although I didn't think that my life was otherwise being negatively impacted by alcohol, I did come to the conclusion that I was a maintenance alcoholic because of my need to drink those 3 or 4 drinks nearly every evening.

My solution was to quit completely with the help of AA.  It hasn't been easy to not drink at certain times, like when sitting down to dinner in a restaurant, but I do think that it was harmful to my health.  

I also had thought that I enjoyed that nightly buzz and that it calmed my anxiety, but I now value having a clear mind more and find that the anxiety was a cycle perpetuated by alchohol.  Also my brain works a lot better and I have more energy.

If you can't cut back to 1 drink a couple of times per week, you probably have developed a habit.  In that case, it would be easier to quit completely than constantly struggling with it.  

You don't have to do it alone.  Find AA in the phone book and make that call to find out when there is a meeting near you.  You will be surprised at the people that you find there.  Men and women from all walks of life, who have had that problem to one degree or another - Those that were alcoholics as you describe them and also those who were barely potential alcoholics.

Avatar universal
Thanks so much for your thoughtful response.  I have been using alcohol since I was 21 (when I lost both of my parents 4 months apart, of separate causes) when I began developing social anxiety disorder.  Without some type of relaxant I find it very hard, and sometimes impossible to live any kind of normal life, such as eating out in restaurants, going to parties, etc...  Alcohol is easy because it is so often present in social situations.  Because of this disorder, going to an AA meeting would never be an option for me unless I pre-medicated.  I have read that panic attacks and mitral valve prolapse often go hand-in-hand.  Maybe the doctor could shed some light on this?  I don't want to end up killing myself with the alcohol, but my only alternative seems to be use of benzodiazapines, which are also addictive.  I have a beautiful 9 year old son and a husband who loves me dearly.  I would consider it a miracle if I could find a way to be a real person in their lives, and not someone who interacts well only behind a wall of self-medication.

Thanks so much for listening.

Avatar universal
Alcohol can be used to cope with anxiety, but it also causes anxiety.  You get into a daily cycle from which alcohol provides only temporary relief.

I don't think that AA is what you think it is.  I go to a 7AM meeting in my neighborhood which only has a few people and is very informal.  It helps me get started on the right track each day and really calms me.

It's not a matter of having to get up in front of a group of people or anything like that.  Also there are many people there that have suffered from anxiety disorders and depression.  It all goes along with alcohol.

I think that if you could take the first step and call them and go to a women's meeting, it might help you to change your life.  See if you can find an older woman there with some time in the program to be a temporary sponsor.  The right person can really help.

I do hope that you can take that first step.  I know that there is a time in life when we all realize that we have to find a way to move on.  

Best Wishes,


Avatar universal
I have found these points very interesting as I have been wondering myself if the 3 glasses of wine each evening with my meal were excessive. When I first started on heart meds, I asked my doc if it was OK to have wine and he seemed to think it would do no harm. Also my husband encourages me to share a bottle with him as he has heard that it is good for the heart, and I don't get many treats being on a very low fat diet.( Also he enjoys the wine but would not drink by himself, so has a vested interest in encoraging me )  Recently I have been wondering if the palpitations I have been getting at night have been due to the alcohol and reading your posts have encouraged me to give up at least for a week or two to see if I feel any better!! If nothing else it will save some cash as it is quite expensive here in the UK.
Avatar universal
I do know personally that arythmias are aggravated by alcohol.  I have some damage from my 100% occluded RCA.  I experienced PACs or PVCs quite often after drinking.  It is extremely rare that I feel any skipped beat or palpitation now that I abstain from alcohol completely.

I do think that a glass of red wine each evening might be beneficial to the heart.  If I could drink only that one glass without wanting more, I probably would have continued drinking.
If I am drinking wine, I generally want to finish the bottle, which is only a few glasses.  If I am drinking beer, I am not satisfied until I have had 3 or 4 strong beers.

Part of coming to the decision not to drink at all, was coming to a belief that there was high value to always being in an unaltered conscious state.  I did enjoy that evening buzz and the warm and fuzzy feeling of having my conscious state altered by alcohol, but there are dividends to never altering it, if that makes any sense.

Also, I have regained a lot of mental ability, since discontinuing alcohol.

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