Many Americans drink alcohol at least occasionally and for most, moderate drinking is relatively safe, but when drinking heavily over time becomes part of a person’s lifestyle, they can greatly increase their risk for hypertension and other harmful conditions.
What is Hypertension?
Blood pressure is the force exerted by your blood flowing on the walls of your arteries—tubular structures that carry blood to different parts of your body. This means that your blood pressure is determined by both the amount of blood your heart pumps through your body’s arteries as well as the amount of resistance to this blood flow.
When your arteries are healthy and dilated, the resistance to blood flow is low, and blood flows easily through your body. But when your arteries are too narrow or stiff, resistance to blood flow increases, and therefore, your blood pressure rises.
This causes your heart to work harder than normal to pump blood through the body. The extra work thickens the muscles of your heart and further hardens or damages artery walls.
How Alcohol Can Cause Hypertension
Drinking too much alcohol can raise your blood pressure to unhealthy levels.
According to a number of studies over the years, there are several possible ways that alcohol is believed to raise blood pressure—these include:
- Imbalance in the central nervous system (CNS) or sympathetic nervous system (SNS)
- Imbalance of vasoconstrictors such as endothelium
- Impairment of baroreceptor control in the brain
- Increased activity of the renin-angiotensin-aldosterone system
- Increased plasma cortisol levels
- Increased amount of calcium that binds to the blood vessels
Symptoms of Hypertension
For most people with hypertension, there are no obvious signs or symptoms. This is why hypertension can go undetected for years if people do not have their blood pressure checked.
Unfortunately for many others, the first sign of high blood pressure may be when they are already showing signs of cardiovascular disease or have suffered a heart attack or stroke. This is why hypertension is known in the medical world as “the silent killer.”
Treating Alcohol Induced Hypertension
The good news is, alcohol-induced hypertension is treatable, and mainly requires some lifestyle changes.
These changes include:
Limiting alcohol intake
Those who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their top number in a blood pressure reading (systolic blood pressure) by about 2-4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their bottom number (diastolic blood pressure) by about 1-2 mm Hg.
Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over 1-2 weeks with medical supervision.
- For most women, moderate drinking is no more than one standard drink a day
- For most men, moderate drinking is no more than two standard drinks a day
- A standard drink is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof distilled spirits
Other lifestyle changes
In addition to limiting alcohol intake, physical conditioning and regular exercise can help treat alcohol-induced hypertension by increasing the body’s use of oxygen and increasing the antioxidant defense system within the cardiovascular system.
Being physically active for at least 30 minutes per day on most days is one of the most important things you can do to lower your blood pressure.
It doesn’t have to be a high-impact activity—walking, cycling, yoga, or even chores around the house can help control your blood pressure.
Other lifestyle changes that could help lower blood pressure include:
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Reducing stress
- Getting better quality sleep
- Quitting smoking
- Taking certain vitamins and supplements
Risks of Alcohol Induced Hypertension
The more alcohol you drink, the higher your risk of developing hypertension. If you drink regularly you are at risk, especially if you’re over the age of 35. When your blood vessels are narrower, the heart has to work harder to push blood around your body. This makes your blood pressure go up.
High blood pressure can significantly increase your risk of:
- Heart disease
- Vascular dementia, which is caused when not enough blood gets to the brain
- Chronic kidney disease
Health Benefits of Avoiding Alcohol
There are many physical and mental health benefits to avoiding alcohol.
Some of these include:
- Better sleep
- Healthy weight
- Better skin
- Improved physical health
- Improved mental health
- Stronger immune system
- Enhanced nutrition
- Lower risk of cancer and other conditions
- Potential improvements to relationships
When to See a Doctor
Regardless of your age or medical history, take the time to get an annual medical check-up, which will include a blood pressure test. Since hypertension often has no clear signs or symptoms, taking a blood pressure reading is the only way to diagnose it.
This is especially important if you are drinking excessively or more than what is considered “in moderation.”If you have been diagnosed with hypertension and are not seeing improvement after making necessary lifestyle changes, you should consult with your doctor again.
How K Health Can Help
K Health offers affordable and convenient access to highly qualified doctors to treat and manage high blood pressure, as long as you are not having a hypertensive crisis.
You can meet with your K Health doctor from the comfort of your own home via the K Health app, all while knowing that you’re getting individualized and expert care.
Frequently Asked Questions
K Health articles are all written and reviewed by MDs, PhDs, NPs, or PharmDs and are for informational purposes only. This information does not constitute and should not be relied on for professional medical advice. Always talk to your doctor about the risks and benefits of any treatment.
K Health has strict sourcing guidelines and relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references.
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New ACC/AHA High Blood Pressure Guidelines Lower Definition of Hypertension. (2017).