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Alcohol and the Cardiovascular System

Timothy J. Regan, MD
JAMA. 1990;264(3):377-381. doi:10.1001/jama.1990.03450030101041.
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Ethanol has long been recognized as a toxic agent that has acute and chronic effects on cerebral and hepatic function. Over the past two decades important influences on the cardiovascular system have been either rediscovered or observed for the first time. The combined use of tobacco cigarettes and alcohol appears to increase the risk of many of these clinical abnormalities. While many individuals addicted to ethanol have subclinical abnormalities of the heart, somewhat less than a majority develop symptomatic cardiac problems. These include heart failure and arrhythmias. In addition to supraventricular arrhythmias that often normalize spontaneously, there is an increased incidence of sudden death that peaks at about 50 years of age in the alcoholic population. A significant degree of blood pressure elevation occurs in individuals who abuse alcohol. This appears to be transient and is normalized in most individuals during abstinence. The increased incidence of hemorrhagic and nonhemorrhagic stroke in middle age also appears to decline when alcohol abuse is interrupted. A preventive effect of mild to moderate drinking on coronary artery disease is, at present, equivocal, largely due to the question of appropriate controls.

(JAMA. 1990;264:377-381)


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