Women who drink may be at greater risk of cardiovascular complications than men

  • Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can increase the prevalence of cardiovascular complications, including hypertension, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and stroke.
  • Some female alcoholics experience more severe cardiovascular effects from heavy drinking than male alcoholics; these effects are noted earlier and at lower consumption levels than those noted in men.
  • Women who drink chronically may also be at risk for future cardiovascular complications.

The cardiovascular effects of chronic, heavy alcohol consumption can include an increased prevalence of hypertension, cardiomyopathy, arrhythmia, and stroke. Most of the studies to date, however, have focused on males, even though women appear to be more sensitive than men to alcohol's toxic effects on the heart. Research published in the September issue of Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research confirms that some female alcoholics experience more severe cardiovascular effects from heavy alcohol drinking than those observed in male alcoholics, and these effects are noted at an earlier stage of drinking and at a lower consumption level than those noted in men.

"This work adds to the growing body of literature that confirms what many researchers in the field have suspected," said Nancy C. Bernardy, a research psychologist at the National Center for PTSD in White River Junction, Vermont. "The use of drugs, such as alcohol and nicotine, has a greater adverse impact on women than on men."

This phenomenon - where women need to drink a lesser amount of alcohol than men do, or for a shorter amount of time, to produce the same degree of damage - is referred to as "telescoping."

"Additionally," said Bernardy, also the first author of the study, "I think that this work adds to growing evidence that there are subtle differences in the cardiovascular systems of women in general compared to those of men. Women's hearts are not just smaller versions of men's.


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