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What is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Medically reviewed by Mia Dacumos, MD · Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Dec 18, 2020

What is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

weight: 400;”>Too much alcohol is never good for the body. Although people often think about the liver, many do not know that alcohol can also weaken the heart. After many years of excessive alcohol abuse, the heart muscles become thinner and more fragile, leading to what experts call alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM). But what exactly is alcoholic cardiomyopathy? How does this affect the body and can it be prevented Here is everything you need to know about this heart condition.

What is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Cardiomyopathy translates to “heart muscle disease.’ With alcoholic cardiomyopathy, the heart muscles are weakened by long-term heavy drinking. This affects its ability to pump blood to our body. As it cannot function properly anymore, less blood is circulated throughout the body. If this happens, it can cause heart failure and other life-threatening situations.

Alcoholism: Early Signs to Watch Out For

Who is at Risk of Getting ACM?

According to statistics, alcoholic cardiomyopathy is more common in people ages 30 and 50. Additionally, anyone with a history of heavy drinking has a higher chance of developing this heart condition.

In context, heavy drinking is exceeding the recommended daily limits of alcohol consumption:

  • 4 drinks a day or 14 drinks each week is considered heavy drinking for men.
  • 3 drinks a day or more than 7 drinks is considered heavy drinking for women.
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy typically develops in anyone who has been drinking more than 80 to 90 g of ethanol per day for at least 5 years. That is the equivalent of 1 liter of wine or 8 glasses of beer. As for hard liquor or spirits, it is equivalent to one-half pint.

    What are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

    Unfortunately, alcoholic cardiomyopathy does not have any prevalent symptoms. When people are diagnosed with it, the symptoms that occur are that of heart failure, which is life-threatening. 

    Someone with alcoholic cardiomyopathy may experience the following symptoms:

    Then again, symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy may not occur until the final stages, which is why it’s essential to have your heart checked regularly.

    How Does Excessive Alcohol Consumption Cause ACM?

    In excessive amounts, alcoholic beverages often have toxic effects on the body. The toxins from alcohol damage the heart muscles, much like what it does with other organs. If the heart muscles become thinner and weaker, the heart is unable to pump out blood efficiently. As a result, it expands to hold extra blood, further causing the muscles to become fragile. The heart muscles and vessels stop functioning correctly due to the strain and damage.

    Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Dangerous?

    The severity of someone’s ACM may determine how dangerous the disease is. Not everyone who develops this heart condition suffers from serious heart problems. But in severe cases (due to several risk factors, like past heart conditions, poor lifestyle, weight, and genetics), it could lead to several other problems.

    ACM complications include:

    According to research done in 2018, 27.7 people of people hospitalized due to alcoholic cardiomyopathy die within two to six years after hospitalization. The condition can grow even more severe as time passes by without medical intervention.

    How to Prevent Cardiomyopathy: 4 Ways To Start a Heart-Healthy Life

    How Do Doctors Treat ACM?

    To treat alcoholic cardiomyopathy, the person has to stop drinking. Therefore, ACM treatments often include rehabilitation programs that can help the patient withdraw from alcoholism entirely. This lets the heart heal and prevent further complications. 

    Furthermore, the patient is required to have a low salt diet and medications, such as beta blockers, ACE inhibitors, and diuretics. Hospitalization might also be necessary to monitor the patient’s condition. Nevertheless, severe cases would require more invasive types of treatments, such as a biventricular pacemaker, implantable defibrillator (ICD), or heart transplant.

    Unfortunately, many people with alcoholism will find rehab difficult, so family and friends of the patient need to offer support or, in some cases, intervention. 

    Can You Prevent ACM?

    The best way to prevent alcoholic cardiomyopathy is to limit or stop drinking alcoholic beverages. If you must, or you really want to, stay within the recommended daily limit and do it occasionally. If you find it hard to stop drinking, consult a licensed medical professional.

    Furthermore, you need to strengthen your heart’s health:

    • Avoid smoking
    • Start eating healthy foods and staying away from processed food.
    • Exercise daily (at least 30 minutes of moderate physical activity a day)
    • Learn how to handle stress
    • Do not overwork yourself, both physically and mentally
    • Monitor your pulse rate (consult your doctor if it’s abnormal)

    Key Takeaway

    Alcoholic abuse can lead to a myriad of problems, including alcoholic cardiomyopathy. It is best to limit your intake of alcohol, though those who have alcoholism should seek out a rehabilitation program. If you are experiencing symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, consult your doctor. This condition can have devastating effects on the body when ignored.

    Learn more about Heart Health here. 


    Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

    Medically reviewed by

    Mia Dacumos, MD

    Nephrology · Makati Medical Center

    Written by Tracey Romero · Updated Dec 18, 2020

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