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Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

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Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is a serious condition that occurs with alcohol use disorder. Find out more about this condition, how it impacts individuals, and what you can do to learn more about prevention and treatment.

It can be overwhelming when an alcohol use disorder impacts our health. Unfortunately, alcohol misuse creates a wide range of health problems. Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is a serious condition that affects the heart after long-term alcohol use.

The damage to your heart includes enlarged muscle, stretching, and weakening of the organ. This irregular shape leads to trouble pumping blood and can reduce one’s oxygen supply. In addition to changes in the heart structure, the weakened electrical system can also impact the heart’s rhythm, which can cause the heart to beat out of sync. The effects of alcoholic cardiomyopathy can be fatal if not treated.

Many people may not recognize the signs or symptoms of how alcohol is impacting one’s health. Diseases that affect the liver or heart can often take years before someone may recognize the signs of the disease progressing.

Over time, long-term alcohol use can weaken the heart muscle and change the shape and structure of the heart. These changes cause damage that impacts the body’s ability to function and can lead to heart failure.

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is often associated with individuals who drink excessively over a long period. According to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA),

Heavy Alcohol Use is defined by the following(1):

  • For men, consuming more than 4 drinks on any day or more than 14 drinks per week.
  • For women, consuming more than 3 drinks on any day or more than 7 drinks per week.

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What Are the Symptoms of Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy is dangerous because the symptoms of the disease can progress without warning. That means a person may be in heart failure without knowing, leading to significant impairment or possibly death. 

Common Symptoms Associated with Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy: 

  • Chest pain.
  • Coughing.
  • Fatigue or weakness.
  • Feeling lightheaded or passing out.
  • Heart palpitations. 
  • Bulging of veins in the neck.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Swelling in feet, ankles, or lower legs.
  • Noticeable decrease in appetite.
  • Loss of muscle mass.

How Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Diagnosed?

If you are concerned that you may have alcoholic cardiomyopathy, please seek medical attention immediately. You will need to complete an exam to diagnose and assess your severity of symptoms.

Testing to Diagnose Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy:

  • The physical exam includes listening to breathing, examining the pulse, taking blood pressure, and gathering information on one’s history and current symptoms. 
  • Imaging tests to diagnose the image and functioning of your heart. Examples of imaging tests include Echocardiogram, Electrocardiography, Chest X-ray, CT scan, or MRI. 
  • Doctors will see if the heart looks enlarged, if there is congestion or fluid in the lungs,and if there is an irregular heartbeat. 
  • Doctors will complete a thorough assessment of past and current alcohol use.

Can Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Be Treated?

The first course of action in treating alcoholic cardiomyopathy is by abstaining from alcohol entirely. To refrain from alcohol, one can be successful with a supportive network that can help treat your alcohol addiction. 

To safely treat alcohol addiction, a medical team must monitor one’s health, symptoms, and detoxification response. The medical team’s support will ensure safety while going through treatment. No one wants to go through this process alone. Having an experienced and supportive team will allow you to feel supported, safe, and successful as you take this step towards recovery. 

In addition to treating your alcohol addiction, the treatment team will be taking a holistic approach toward recovery. A person’s treatment plan includes focusing on mental health, family relationships, ensuring a healthy diet, exercise, and medication management to improve or reduce symptoms.  

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How To Prevent Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

The only way to truly prevent alcoholic cardiomyopathy is to refrain from drinking alcohol entirely. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy only develops after long-term use of alcohol. 

By stopping alcohol entirely during the disease’s early stages, reversal of heart damage can occur. Even in more advanced cases, refraining from alcohol can end the progression and further deterioration related to this disease. 

What Can I Expect If I Have This Condition?

The prognosis of alcoholic cardiomyopathy varies based on factors such as the history of alcohol use and the severity of drinking. Typically, the longer you are a heavy drinker, the worse the condition can be. 

For many people, experiencing heart disease symptoms related to alcohol use can be the motivation to seek a healthy and sober life. Medical detoxification can be the best outcome for individuals with heart disease. In addition to improving one’s health, people report other positive side effects of sober living, such as improved relationships, a better quality of sleep, more energy, and increased feelings of happiness. 

How Long Does Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Last?

Unfortunately, this is a lifelong disease. Symptoms can be reversed if caught early and stopping alcohol use can significantly reduce the progression of the disease. People who have experienced alcohol addiction for several years may experience the impact of heart disease for their entire life.

Although heart disease is permanent, it does not mean that people can not fully recover if they take steps towards a healthy life without the use of alcohol. It is estimated that a person will have at most 10 years of life left if they continue drinking while living with heart disease

Is Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Fatal?

If a person continues to drink heavily with this disease, it will lead to death. Unfortunately, even with the cessation of alcohol use, a person with alcoholic cardiomyopathy has a greater chance of heart attack and stroke. 

How Can I Take Care of Myself with Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy?

The best way a person can take care of themselves when receiving a diagnosis of alcoholic cardiomyopathy is to seek medical attention, assess the disease’s severity, and identify treatment options. A focused approach to individual treatment is critical for the long-term success of each individual. 

Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy Statistics

There is minimal information regarding alcoholic cardiomyopathy and statistical analysis. According to NIAAA, several health disorders are associated with chronic alcohol use. In addition to heart disease, alcohol use can lead to stroke, liver disease, pancreatitis, cancer, and chronic immune infections. (2).

Incidence of alcoholic cardiomyopathy ranges from 1-2% of all heavy alcohol users. Approximately 21-36% of all types of cardiomyopathy are attributed to alcohol use. The prevalence of alcoholic cardiomyopathy in rehabilitation centers is around 21-32 % (3). 

The most common population diagnosed with alcoholic cardiomyopathy is males ages 30-55 with a significant history of alcohol use for more than 10 years (3). 

Females comprise roughly 14 % of cases of alcoholic cardiomyopathy (3). 

Mortality rates are higher for males compared to females and more for the black population than the white population (3).

Interactions between genetic and non-genetic factors, exposure to other toxic substances, or mineral deficiencies such as thiamine play an essential role in determining the progression of alcoholic cardiomyopathy (3).

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If you or a loved one is struggling with alcohol use disorder, or if you are concerned you may have health problems related to alcohol use, please contact us today. At Guardian Recovery, you will find a compassionate team ready to meet you where you are in your recovery.  

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Reviewed professionally for accuracy by:

Ryan Soave


Ryan Soave brings deep experience as a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, certified trauma therapist, program developer, and research consultant for Huberman Lab at Stanford University Department of Neurobiology. Post-graduation from Wake Forest University, Ryan quickly discovered his acumen for the business world. After almost a decade of successful entrepreneurship and world traveling, he encountered a wave of personal and spiritual challenges; he felt a calling for something more. Ryan returned to school and completed his Master’s Degree in Mental Health Counseling. When he started working with those suffering from addiction and PTSD, he found his passion. He has never looked back.

Written by:

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark

Cayla Clark grew up in Santa Barbara, CA and graduated from UCLA with a degree in playwriting. Since then she has been writing on addiction recovery and psychology full-time, and has found a home as part of the Guardian Recovery team.

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