Heart palpitations and alcohol are often closely associated, as heavy drinking can be a direct cause of palpitations. Alcohol acts as a stimulant to increase the heart rate and it can sometimes cause arrhythmias if consumed excessively. When a patient reports to a medical provider with heart problems, the practitioner may ask the patient a series of questions to screen for common risk factors, including questions about alcohol consumption patterns. It is advisable to answer these questions accurately so the care provider can provide appropriate treatment.
The reason why alcohol stimulates the heart is not fully understood, but cardiac researchers have long noted a link between palpitations and alcohol. Moderate alcohol consumption, particularly of low-alcohol products like beer and wine, can actually provide some health benefits in some patients, but when people drink frequently or heavily, they can put themselves at risk. In addition to being a potential cause of palpitations, alcohol can also elevate blood pressure, which stresses the heart and kidneys.
Other stimulants like caffeine can also cause palpitations. In an otherwise healthy patient who develops abnormal heart rhythms, the first medical recommendation may be to cut back on stimulant use to see if this helps. Heavy drinkers may need to attend a treatment program to help them safely stop drinking. Moderate to light drinkers can try cutting alcohol out entirely to see if this resolves the issue. The connection between palpitations and alcohol is also important for people with existing heart problems to consider, as they may need to be careful.
During withdrawal, palpitations can also be an issue. People who are used to drinking frequently can experience anxiety and other psychological symptoms as they stop drinking, even in a supportive environment like a treatment center. These symptoms may be associated with palpitations, which in this case are indirectly associated with the patient’s history of alcohol consumption. Patients preparing for alcohol cessation programs may want to discuss common symptoms so they can prepare rather than being surprised by events like palpitations and nausea.
People who notice a personal connection between palpitations and the consumption of alcohol, such as an increase in heart rate immediately after drinking, may be especially sensitive to drinks. Among people of Asian descent in particular, sensitivity to alcohol is very common; these patients may need to avoid drinking or drink in very moderate amounts to protect their cardiovascular health. Other people can experience problems with palpitations and alcohol after heart attacks and other events that affect cardiovascular function.