Drinking May Harm Older Hearts

Alcohol intake linked to dangerous heart changes in the elderly

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD Beth Bolt, RPh

(RxWiki News) If you're over 65, you may want to consult your heart before you take that next sip.

A recent study found that increased alcohol intake may be linked to small changes in heart structure and function in the elderly.

“In spite of potential benefits of low alcohol intake, our findings highlight the possible hazards to cardiac structure and function by increased amounts of alcohol consumption in the elderly, particularly among women," said lead study author Alexandra Gonçalves, MD, PhD, of Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, MA, in a press release. "This reinforces the US recommendations stating that those who drink should do so with moderation.”

Past research by Dr. Gonçalves found that the effects of light to moderate drinking — up to seven drinks per week during middle age — may be beneficial to a person's health. However, high alcohol consumption — 14 drinks per week during middle age — may cause dangerous changes in heart structure and function.

Dr. Gonçalves and team looked at the effects of alcohol on heart health in an elderly population. They examined 4,466 participants with an average age of 76. Echocardiography was used to look at heart structure. A survey was also taken that asked about participants' alcohol consumption.

Echocardiography, also known as an echo test or heart ultrasound, is a nonsurgical test that takes moving pictures of the heart with sound waves.

Dr. Gonçalves and team found that increased alcohol intake was linked to larger left ventricle and left atrium size. Enlargement of these heart chambers may be a sign of an increased risk for heart failure. This was shown in both men and women.

Women showed slight decreases in heart function after only moderate drinking, suggesting that women's hearts may be more affected by alcohol.

“Women appear more susceptible than men to the [heart-damaging] effects of alcohol, which might potentially contribute to a higher risk of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, for any given level of alcohol intake," said senior study author Scott D. Solomon, MD, of Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women's, in a press release.

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a disease in which long-term abuse of alcohol leads to heart failure.

These researchers said that all drinkers, regardless of gender, should always do so in moderation, however.

According to the National Institutes of Health, healthy men and women over age 65 should not drink more than three drinks per day or a total of seven drinks per week. Drinking more than these amounts may increase the risk of serious health problems. One alcoholic drink may include 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.

This study was published May 26 online in the American Heart Association journal Circulation: Cardiovascular Imaging.

The National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute and the Portuguese Foundation for Science and Technology funded this research. No conflicts of interest were disclosed.

Review Date: 
May 25, 2015
Last Updated:
May 28, 2015