It’s football season, and with it comes the fun of tailgating … and often an increase in alcohol consumption. Dr. Kenneth Tobin, clinical assistant professor for the Department of Internal Medicine and director in the Chest Pain Center at the University of Michigan, says patients often ask questions about alcohol and heart health, including: “Why does my heart race after drinking alcohol?” Dr. Tobin discusses this question and other alcohol/heart health issues here–information about tailgating and alcohol you can take to heart this football season.
Alcohol-related heart disorders
Alcohol can have a definite impact on heart function and this is very closely tied to the quantity of alcohol an individual ingests. If large amounts are consumed on a regular basis for a prolonged period, you can actually permanently damage and significantly weaken your heart muscle through toxic-induced scar formation. This change in heart structure may lead to what is known as an alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Complications of this condition include (among others) congestive heart failure or lethal ventricular arrhythmias. Either of these specific complications may result in the sensation of a racing heart. However, it is rather unlikely that the only symptom of an alcoholic cardiomyopathy would be a racing heart.
Is it Holiday Heart Syndrome?
A more common reason for feeling as though your heart is racing after alcohol consumption is what we refer to as “Holiday Heart Syndrome,” and is more often known to occur in the college-age crowd who may be involved in occasional periods of binge drinking. If you drink a large amount of alcohol as an isolated or rare event, alterations to the electrical system of the heart may occur and specific cardiac arrhythmias such as atrial fibrillation or atrial flutter may occur. This is most often accompanied by the sensation of a racing heart. It may stop on its own, or it may result in a trip to an emergency department for medical therapy.
Why does it happen?
There are several theories as to why this happens, but it is likely a combination of electrolyte imbalances induced from the alcohol as well as abrupt changes in the levels of blood adrenaline. Lastly, alcohol acts on the body much like a diuretic does (which is why you urinate more frequently when drinking). If you become dehydrated, your heart may compensate by racing in order to keep your cardiac output stable.
Take the next step:
- If you are experiencing symptoms of a racing heart after alcohol ingestion, especially if they last for a prolonged period of time, contact your physician to rule out an alcohol-induced cardiac arrhythmia.
- To schedule an appointment to discuss a heart arrhythmia or other cardiovascular condition, call at 888-287-1082, email at CVCCallCtr@med.umich.edu.
Dr. Kenneth Tobin is a clinical assistant professor for the Department of Internal Medicine and director in the Chest Pain Center at the University of Michigan. His specialty is cardiology, with clinical interests in the association of patent foramen ovale and stroke, patent foramen ovale and migraine, preventive cardiology and echocardiography.
The University of Michigan Frankel Cardiovascular Center is a top-ranked heart and heart surgery program among Michigan hospitals. To learn more, visit umcvc.org.