Heavy drinking may cause hidden heart damage

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Published: March, 2020

If you drink alcohol to excess, you may be doing damage to heart tissue, even if you don't have symptoms, according to a study published in the Dec. 18, 2019, Journal of the American Heart Association.

Researchers analyzed blood samples from more than 2,500 adults ages 35 to 69 who had participated in a heart study. Most of the samples studied came from the general population in northwest Russia; these were compared with nearly 300 people being treated for alcohol-use disorder at a Russian hospital. Study authors categorized the general population group as harmful drinkers, hazardous drinkers, non-problem drinkers, and nondrinkers, based on their self-reported drinking habits. Investigators then examined the blood samples for specific biomarkers that can indicate three specific heart problems: a heart injury, stretching of the cardiac wall, and increased inflammation.

The heaviest drinkers, the group being treated for alcohol use disorder, had the highest levels of all three of the biomarkers, including a 10.3% higher level of the marker for heart injury, a 46.7% higher level of the marker for cardiac wall stretch, and a 69.2% higher level of the marker for increased inflammation, when compared non-problem drinkers from the general population. Among the general population group, the indicator for cardiac wall stretch was 31.5% higher in those who reported harmful drinking patterns when compared with the non-problem drinkers. More study is needed to confirm and better understand the findings.

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