Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a dangerous disease caused by alcohol misuse. Find out how it can affect you and how it can be prevented.

Many people know that long-term alcohol abuse can affect the liver and cause it to fail. However, other organs, including the heart, are also at risk when alcohol abuse is heavy and chronic. Alcohol consumption can lead to a heart condition called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which may progress to congestive heart failure if left untreated.

Long-term alcohol use can be toxic to the liver and the heart. Over time, the toxicity of alcohol can weaken the muscle of the heart, which affects the heart’s ability to pump blood, which also begins affecting other organs in the body. Additionally, because the heart cannot pump the blood as it should, the heart begins to expand to hold the excess blood. This expansion causes the walls of the heart to become thinner as the heart itself becomes larger, eventually affecting the muscles’ and the vessel’s ability to function.

Frequently, alcoholic cardiomyopathy stems from a long history of drinking in excess. According to the National Institute of Health, “Excessive alcohol intake is reported in a wide range (3-40%) of patients with idiopathic dilated cardiomyopathy … ” While heavy drinking can cause alcoholic cardiomyopathy, moderate drinking is not thought to be a danger.

Article at a Glance:

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can cause several harmful health effects and can often be deadly. Some of the most important points to keep in mind regarding alcoholic cardiomyopathy include facts that alcoholic cardiomyopathy:

Is essentially the weakening of the heart

Is caused by chronic, heavy alcohol use

Can only be prevented by stopping alcohol use

Will kill over a quarter of those affected by it within four years

What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be dangerous because it may be asymptomatic for some people who have the condition. In other words, no symptoms are present until alcoholic cardiomyopathy has already progressed, possibly leading to heart failure.

However, when symptoms do occur, a physician should be contacted immediately, as the alcoholic cardiomyopathy could already have progressed. Such symptoms may include:

  • Shortness of breath
  • Swelling of the legs, feet, and ankles
  • Fatigue
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness or fainting
  • Loss of appetite
  • Rapid and irregular pulse
  • A cough with a pink mucus
  • Change in urine output

How Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?

If you suspect you may have alcoholic cardiomyopathy, make an appointment with a physician immediately. During the appointment, there will be a physical exam. The pulse and blood pressure will be checked, as well as the lungs and heart.

During this exam, a physician can identify certain factors that would lead to an alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosis. Factors may include an enlarged heart, a heart murmur, sounds of congestion in the heart or lungs, swelling in the jugular veins in the neck and swelling in the legs, ankles, and feet.

The doctor will also likely ask about your medical history, including your history of alcohol use. Lab testing and diagnostic imaging may be done, as well. While lab testing won’t lead to an alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosis specifically, it can aid in identifying organ damage. Oftentimes X-rays and CT scans can detect an enlarged heart and congestion or fluid in the lungs while electrocardiograms may identify disruption in the heartbeat.

Can Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Be Treated?

While there is no foolproof alcohol rehab treatment for alcoholic cardiomyopathy, certain steps can be taken to curb the condition, including:

  • To completely stop drinking alcohol, as all it will do is continue to weaken the heart
  • Dietary changes
  • Doctors may prescribe ACE inhibitors or beta-blockers to manage high blood pressure

How To Prevent Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

The only sure way to prevent alcoholic cardiomyopathy is to avoid excessive alcohol use. Typically, the consumption of more than one to two drinks a day or eight to nine drinks a week is considered heavy drinking.

Some research suggests that alcohol use, specifically red wine, may reduce the risk of developing heart diseases. The American Heart Association (AHA), however, has found that regular use of alcoholic beverages has not been definitively shown to reduce the risk of heart disease. Instead, a proper diet and regular exercise are better ways to maintain good heart health. The AHA also reports that any potential benefits that red wine may create can be obtained from other non-alcoholic sources, such as grape juice.

Fortunately, the negative effects of alcoholic cardiomyopathy in the early stages can be reversed entirely when alcohol usage is stopped. Even in more advanced cases of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, the progression of the disease will likely stop when alcohol use is stopped.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Statistics

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is part of a wider group of heart disorders that are not particularly well-studied from a statistical standpoint. Obtaining data on these heart problems is difficult. Unfortunately, there are no good data or studies on how commonly alcoholic cardiomyopathy affects people who face chronic alcohol abuse issues.

Some statistics and facts about alcoholic cardiomyopathy include:

  • 27.7% of people who had alcoholic cardiomyopathy died within four years of their diagnosis
  • Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is more likely to occur in females who drink heavily than in males
  • The risk of developing alcoholic cardiomyopathy much higher after five to 10 years of heavy drinking
  • A large percentage of people who get alcoholic cardiomyopathy will die from it if they continue to drink alcohol

If you or a loved one struggle with alcohol use disorder or use alcohol even though it may cause health problems, then you should consider seeking professional help. The Recovery Village has a proven track record of providing caring and successful alcohol detox and treatment to people with alcohol addictions. Contact one of our understanding team members today to learn how alcohol rehab can benefit you or a loved one.

Camille Renzoni
Editor – Camille Renzoni
Cami Renzoni is a creative writer and editor for The Recovery Village. As an advocate for behavioral health, Cami is certified in mental health first aid and encourages people who face substance use disorders to ask for the help they deserve. Read more
Benjamin Caleb Williams
Medically Reviewed By – Benjamin Caleb Williams, RN
Benjamin Caleb Williams is a board-certified Emergency Nurse with several years of clinical experience, including supervisory roles within the ICU and ER settings. Read more

Popjes, Eric D. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy.” Medscape, 2014. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Iacovoni, A., De Maria, R., & Gavazzi, A. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy.” Journal of Cardiovascular Medicine, 2010. Accessed April 22, 2019.

George, Anil & Figueredo, Vincent M. “Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: A Review.” Division of Cardiology Faculty Papers, 2011. Accessed April 22, 2019.

National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. “What is a Standard Drink?” 2019. Accessed April 22, 2019.

American Heart Association. “Alcohol and Heart Health.” 2014. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Wei, Fang et al. “The Prognostic Factors of Alcoholic Card[…]-Center Cohort Study.” Medicine, 2018. Accessed April 22, 2019.

Medical Disclaimer

The Recovery Village aims to improve the quality of life for people struggling with substance use or mental health disorder with fact-based content about the nature of behavioral health conditions, treatment options and their related outcomes. We publish material that is researched, cited, edited and reviewed by licensed medical professionals. The information we provide is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. It should not be used in place of the advice of your physician or other qualified healthcare providers.