Doctor Speak: “Over consumption of alcohol leads to heart problems”

Are you still reeling from the hangover? Is it very hard to resist those glasses of intoxication? If that’s you, pause. Begin 2019 on a healthier note, embrace health over those few shots—for they can cost you your well being.

Alcohol consumption has become commonplace in the Indian party scenario. A significant shift is being noticed in the way youngsters and elderly binge eat and drink. What we do not understand is that such deleterious practices take a toll on our heart health. Cardiovascular disease is a major health concern that is responsible for close to 209 deaths per one lakh population annually in India.

Our heart is a pump which functions to maintain circulation of blood throughout the body. Through this, delivery of oxygen and nutrients as well as removal of waste products to and from the body is ensured. Alcohol is known to increase fat deposits in the body, and both long-term or binge drinking will lead to build-up of these fatty deposits along the walls of the arteries in the heart. The result is gradual narrowing of the arteries, clot formation and diminution of blood flow, ultimately leading to increased load on the heart and cardiac arrest, sometimes even sudden death.
The same holds true for junk food. Quick party snacks such as chips, breads, other fried items etc. are calorie laden and contain saturated and trans-fat which are enemies of heart health. These foods increase cholesterol levels and also central obesity (fat deposition around the stomach) which are risk factors for cardiovascular disease.
If you are already suffering cardiovascular disease, for example high blood pressure or have had a history of stroke, heart surgery etc., you need to be extremely cautious about the kind of diet you follow. Alcohol should ideally be out of your list of consumable items. This is to ensure that you do not further increase the levels of triglycerides and bad cholesterol (LDL) in your body and exacerbate the heart condition. Alcohol can increase blood pressure, which may be an almost immediate effect, especially if you are known hypertensive. This tremendously increases you risk of having a stroke or heart attack.
Symptoms of sudden heart attack that one should look out for: Breathlessness, dizziness, pain in chest or arms, disorientation.
Late night parties also mean lack of sleep or irregular sleep patterns. This combined with unhealthy eating and drinking habits, especially in patients with pre-existing heart conditions, is a recipe for disaster waiting to happen.
There is no way to prevent heart disease due to overconsumption of alcohol or junk diet. Trying to tackle the menace by advising against consumption of alcohol and unhealthy food items may be unrealistic. Initially, the goal should be to educate individuals to maintain moderation in drinking, followed by gradual withdrawl and consume a balanced diet. A low-saturated fat diet, high in fiber can reduce the risk of developing heart disease. Ensure adequate water intake if you do consume alcohol. Exercising regularly is equally important to enhance heart and total body health; however, consult your physician before beginning any new regimen or strenuous activity if you are suffering from heart disease.
Remember that drinking is not the only way to have fun, following a disciplined lifestyle and partying responsibly is also cool!

(Write up by Dr Bipeenchandra Bhamre, Cardio-Thoracic Surgeon, Sir H N Reliance Foundation Hospital and Research Centre)

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