How Does Alcohol Affect Blood Pressure?
One of the health concerns around alcohol consumption relates to blood pressure. Sometimes we hear that a glass of red wine every day is good for the heart, whilst on other occasions, we hear of links between alcohol and heart attacks.
You may be wondering what advice to listen to and what effects alcohol really does have on blood pressure levels. Here we are going to look at what medical advice really is.
What is blood pressure?
We all know that the heart is the muscle that pumps blood around the body. This blood is needed to bring oxygen to the different organs and tissues of the body so that they can function.
A blood pressure measurement is given in two numbers, for example, “124 over 75”, and this can mean very little if we don’t know what the numbers are measuring.
When we talk about blood pressure, we are talking about:
- The amount of force that the heart is using in order to pump the blood (this is called systolic pressure and is the first number in a blood pressure reading).
- the amount of resistance that the blood vessels are putting up against blood flow (called diastolic pressure and is the second number in a blood pressure measurement).
What should my blood pressure be?
The NHS states that, usually, ideal blood pressure should be somewhere between 90/60mmHg and 120/80mmHg (mmHg means “millimetres of mercury” and is the way the pressure is measured).
Everyone is slightly different and so it is best to check with your doctor regarding what your own blood pressure should be.
Effects of alcohol on blood pressure
Like many things related to the effects of alcohol the repercussions connected with blood pressure have to be thought of in both the short and longer terms, i.e., immediate effects, and effects that can arise over time.
It is important to remember however that drinking too much on one occasion can be as damaging, and sometimes even more so, than drinking too much alcohol over a longer period.
A small amount of alcohol seems to lower blood pressure, and this is likely the basis for the widespread belief that a glass of red wine a day is good for you. But as the amount of alcohol consumed increases (e.g., 3 or more drinks) blood pressure also increases and several of the body’s vital organs come under strain.
This means that, in order for the heart to pump blood around the body, more pressure is needed – i.e., high blood pressure.
Many people will be unaware that they are suffering from high blood pressure or hypertension as the condition very rarely shows any symptoms.
That is why it is important to have your blood pressure checked regularly and to be safe in the amount of alcohol we consume.
The risk of hypertension increases with the amount of alcohol we consume. Anyone who drinks regularly is at risk of suffering side effects when it comes to blood pressure.
Over time, high blood pressure begins to damage the blood vessels and makes the delivery of blood to the organs such as the brain and kidneys more difficult.
What can high blood pressure cause?
The possible effects of high blood pressure are serious and sometimes life-threatening. As the increased pressure damages blood vessels and organs there is an increased risk of several conditions:
- Heart attack – this happens when a blockage occurs in the blood vessels due to the scaling of the arteries as a result of high blood pressure damage.
- Stroke – this is when blood is unable to reach parts of the brain and can result in serious long-term damage and even death. Strokes can be caused by binge drinking as well as prolonged heavy drinking.
- Heart disease – when the muscles of the heart become damaged in some way causing it to be unable to pump blood as effectively.
- Vascular dementia – caused when the brain is unable to receive enough blood.
How to reduce the effects of alcohol on blood pressure
The most important step that can be taken in order to safeguard against the effects of alcohol on blood pressure is to drink within the limits set by medical guidelines.
The NHS guidance on how much alcohol can be safely consumed each week is no more than 14 units on a regular basis.
It is also advised that if someone regularly drinks up to the 14 units each week then these units should be spread over several days.
It is worthwhile checking out how many units of alcohol are in the drinks you consume.
For example, a pint of 5.2% beer contains 3 units of alcohol and so does a large glass of 12% wine.
Reducing alcohol consumption can also help with losing weight as alcohol contains a lot of empty calories. When we are overweight, the heart is forced to work harder to get blood to travel around the body: this means increased blood pressure.
Losing even a small amount of weight can have a significant impact on blood pressure levels.
How can I reduce the amount of alcohol I drink?
It can be a challenge to cut back on alcohol consumption for many reasons.
For example, for some people, their social circles involve drinking and so it not only seems very easy to be drinking over the recommended 14 units each week but also very difficult to cut down if that is part of our usual routine.
Here are some tips to help reduce alcohol consumption:
- Drink lower strength beers and ciders, and perhaps try some of the wide range of non-alcoholic beverages now easily available.
- Swap between alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks over the course of the evening.
- Tell someone else you are trying to cut back so that they can encourage you if you are tempted to drink more than you planned.
If you want to reduce the amount you drink but are finding it difficult, you can find further advice elsewhere on our website or else your GP will also be able to offer you some more guidance.
- NHS Overview: High blood pressure (hypertension): October 2019.https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/high-blood-pressure-hypertension ↑
- HSE Alcohol’s effect on the body – Blood pressure and the heart: November 2019https://www2.hse.ie/wellbeing/alcohol/physical-health/alcohols-effect-on-the-body/blood-pressure-and-the-heart.html ↑