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Many people attend social events and, in some instances, drink alcoholic beverages. Most people do not realize that alcohol consumption has an effect on the heart that, in rare cases, may be serious. Alcohol is a depressant drug on most tissues of the body. The most apparent depressant effect is on the brain and nervous system. Several unseen effects on the heart are also very important.

One of the effects of alcohol on the heart is to set the stage for extra beating of the heart to begin. Alcohol tends to make the heart muscle irritable, particularly if the intake of alcohol is excessive. The most common extra beating is the development of atrial fibrillation, a condition in which the top chambers of the heart begin to beat very rapidly. This results in a rapid, irregular heartbeat that may cause shortness of breath, dizziness, or even passing-out spells. In fact, this irregularity associated with or made worse by alcohol is so common that it is called the “Holiday Heart” syndrome.

A second, much more severe, problem occurs when there is weakening of the heart muscle due to repeated alcohol ingestion. This condition, called alcoholic cardiomyopathy, results in congestive heart failure with fluid retention and shortness of breath while walking or laying down. It may proceed to severe difficulty in breathing.

Because alcohol reduces heart function, patients with heart conditions should be very careful if they choose to drink alcohol. Even small amounts of alcohol may depress heart function if the muscle is already weak. Likewise, if there is a tendency for your heart to develop irregularity, alcohol should be avoided.

Many people will consume alcohol for pleasure. Moderation is the key to preventing the undesirable effects of this behavior from disrupting their heart health.

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