Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy

What is alcoholic cardiomyopathy?

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is one of the consequences of prolonged use of alcohol.

When you have been used to alcohol for a very long time, the muscles of your heart begins to lose their thickness and eventually weakened. When these muscles are weak, it will become really hard for them to pump blood out of the heart into the blood vessels that take blood to the different parts of the body.

The lack of blood in the tissues of the body other than the heart can lead to health issues that can threaten your existence. It can lead to heart failure eventually.

Men who are between 35 and 50 years old are more likely to develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Women also develop it but not as is common in men. Men who have been drinking heavily and steadily for 15 years and above are at a very high risk of having alcoholic cardiomyopathy. Heavy drinking means drinking nothing less than four drinks of alcohol a day or 14 drinks a week. That’s for men. Women are described to be heavy drinkers if they take 3 drinks and above in a day or nothing less than 8 drinks a day.

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy hardly causes symptoms to be experienced. The symptoms are basically those from the failure of the heart from alcohol dependence. Swollen feet and legs, fatigue, and shortness of breath are typical symptoms of a heart failure

If you suspect you have symptoms similar to those of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, reach out to your doctor at once for proper assessment and treatment. Early assessment and treatment can prevent congestive heart failure from developing.

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy
Photo Credit: Epainassist

What are the symptoms of alcoholic cardiomyopathy?

Common symptoms caused by alcoholic cardiomyopathy are:

You might not experience any symptoms until much of the muscles of the heart have become very weak and the tissues of the body have been seriously affected.

What causes alcoholic cardiomyopathy?

Alcohol dependence is the major cause of alcoholic cardiomyopathy.

Alcohol has negative effects on the heart especially when it is consumed heavily and for a very long time. It gradually weakens the muscles of the heart. Weak heart muscles are useless to the body as they can hardly pump blood into the arteries that leave the heart to different parts of the body. Blood gets accumulated in the heart as it expands more and more. The accumulation of more blood in the heart makes the heart muscles to begin to weaken. Because the muscles are weak, they can’t pump blood into the different body parts. That’s how the heart fails in its functions.

How is alcoholic cardiomyopathy diagnosed?

To diagnose you of alcoholic cardiomyopathy, your doctor will have to examine you physically, assess your medical history and then carry out some diagnostic tests on you. An X-ray may form one of the tests that will be performed on you. I forgot to mention that your drinking habits will be assessed from the questions you are going to be asked. It is good to be honest in all the responses you give as this can go a long way in arming the doctor with the right information to design a course of treatment for you.

Physical exam

When you are being examined physically, your pulse and blood pressure will be examined.

Your doctor will also use a stethoscope to listen to the sounds that your lungs and heart are making. From the sounds, your doctor can find out if you have already developed alcoholic cardiomyopathy. He will generally look out for these indicators:

  • swollen ankles, legs, and feet
  • an enlarged heart
  • congested lungs and heart
  • murmuring sounds from the valves of the heart that has been damaged
  • swollen jugular veins – the veins are found in your neck

Laboratory tests

The physical examinations and X-ray might not be enough to diagnose you properly with alcoholic cardiomyopathy. The doctor might need some vital information that can only be provided by any of the following tests:

  • a blood chemistry panel – measures how much of certain substances are in the blood
  • a liver function test –  assesses that health state of the liver
  • a cholesterol test – checks how much cholesterol is in your blood

Diagnostic imaging

Some imaging tests can also be utilized in the diagnosis:

  • A chest CT scan – with a chest scan, any abnormally large heart can be seen. The fluids in the heart and the lungs can also be viewed from this scan.
  • An echocardiogram – here, your heart is viewed by utilizing a sound wave technology. This can show:
    • blood clots
    • high blood pressure
    • an enlarged heart
    • leaking heart valves
  • An electrocardiogram (EKG) – with an EKG, the electrical activities that control your hear can be assessed. Irregularities can be spotted thus.

How is alcoholic cardiomyopathy treated?

The first thing to do to treat alcoholic cardiomyopathy is for you to put a complete end to drinking. You will be helped to get better from those symptoms that will arise from your decision to stop drinking. These symptoms are called withdrawal symptoms. You will also be helped to adjust your way of living including you diet. You will have to:

  • consume low-salt diets
  • receive diuretics so as to help your body get rid of the excess water in it
  • reduce how much fluid you drink so as to check your heart from experiencing undue pressure

You might be given beta-blockers and ACE inhibitors. These drugs can reduce your blood pressure. A defibrillator or a pacemaker will be implanted into your heart when your heart has become excessively damaged.

Long-term outlook for alcoholic cardiomyopathy

This will vary a whole lot considering the fact that the time the body has been exposed to alcohol is fundamental. This will have a lot to do with how much damage it has done on the heart and other organs of the body. But really, little will be achieved in the treatments if your heart has been seriously destroyed. Your full recovery won’t be possible.

But the story will be a happy ending if you were diagnosed early enough for your heart to be salvaged from the toxic effects of alcohol. And even if the damage has barely begun, it can be reversed.

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