A heart to heart on booze

2017-12-17 06:00
Too much booze could wreck your heart

Too much booze could wreck your heart

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As the song goes: “’Tis the season to be jolly, fa la la la la, la la la la.”

This often gives blanket approval to debauched eating, drinking and partying during December. This is a weekend when many people throughout the country will start raising their alcohol-filled glasses to usher in the festive season.

The holiday season is typically, and unfortunately, associated with the excessive drinking of alcoholic beverages.

But health experts have warned there is a not-so-little consequence for those who overindulge and binge on alcoholic drinks. It is known as holiday heart syndrome (HHS), a little-known heart complication caused by extreme holiday boozing.

Gabriel Eksteen, nutrition science manager at the Heart and Stroke Foundation SA, explained that the acute effects of alcohol were largely dependent on the amount of alcohol consumed and the medical history of each person.

“Severe intoxication can lead to vomiting, decreased consciousness, pancreatitis and even death. However, more typical episodes of binge drinking can also have other serious health consequences.

“Binge drinking is particularly dangerous for individuals with existing health conditions such as uncontrolled high blood pressure, ischaemic heart diseases and heart failure, which can all be exacerbated,” he added.

Alcohol, Eksteen stated, is rapidly and effectively absorbed into the bloodstream, from where it circulates throughout the body, entering most tissues and organs.

It is mostly broken down in the liver and used for energy, similar to fats, proteins and carbohydrates.

However, “if alcohol intake exceeds the rate of breakdown, it starts to build up, causing intoxication and inebriation. The extent of inebriation depends on various factors such as the amount and speed of alcohol intake, and individual factors such as body size and fat mass, gender, genetic factors and concurrent food intake,” Eksteen explained.

Importantly, he added, excessive alcohol intake can cause dangerously low blood sugar levels in people with diabetes and also interfere with various medications.

Philip Ettinger first described HHS as far back as 1978, as an occurrence that even healthy people without heart disease can experience.

Binge-drinking is known to cause arrhythmia, an acute cardiac rhythm disturbance, causing sudden atrial fibrillation.

Nicole Jennings, spokesperson for pharmaceutical company Pharma Dynamics, said while the mechanism of HHS was not fully understood, alcohol did affect the conduction paths of the heart, which explained the onset of atrial fibrillation.

“When the heart develops a rhythm like atrial fibrillation, the atria stop contracting in unison, which decreases the amount of blood moving through the heart. This causes a drop in blood pressure, which that can result in dizziness and in response the body increases its heart rate,” Jennings said.

Most of the irregular heart rhythms associated with HHS are atrial in nature. Atrial fibrillation, which is characterised by heart palpitations, fatigue and shortness of breath, is the most common.

However, atrial flutter identified by a fast heart rate of more than 100 beats per minute and ventricular ectopy, when your heart skips a beat, are also common.

Clinical psychologist Neil Amoore advised revellers to be mindful of their alcohol intake because excessive use also had a significant neurological impact.

“We’re not saying everyone has a drinking problem, but the warning is to people with an underlying neurological disorder or who may know they are struggling with underlying depression or a mood disorder.

“Some people misuse alcohol as an antidepressant or as a way of coping, but they shouldn’t,” he said.

Amoore said the common assumption was that alcohol went hand in hand with relaxation, but in most cases when consumed in excess, it only left people feeling far from relaxed.

“We’re not saying people shouldn’t enjoy themselves – do so. Have a good time, but monitor your intake. You don’t have to set this season as one long drinking spell.”

Read more on:    health  |  alcohol

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