Many people enjoy a glass or two of wine after a long day. The occasional and recreational consumption of alcohol is not problematic for the average adult. However, even healthy adults can experience dramatic cardiovascular effects in the hours after consumption. Common symptoms after drinking include an accelerated heart rate, which is manageable for most individuals. Still, those with existing arrhythmias or other cardiovascular conditions may want to limit or eliminate alcohol in their diets.
What the Experts Say
Medical professionals explain that a temporary heart rate increase in response to one or two drinks is common and unlikely to lead to any severe condition for most adults. However, an increased heart rate, even temporary, can become problematic for people with certain cardiovascular conditions, such as atrial fibrillation; it is also an issue for people at a higher risk for strokes or heart attacks.
Researchers analyzing data from multiple clinical trials noticed a distinct pattern in cardiovascular readings shortly after consuming alcohol. Of the 767 people in the trials, the majority were between 20 and 40 years old. The researchers observed an uptick of about five beats per minute after participants consumed a single drink. The heart rate increased the more the participants drank, and for 24 hours, the average participant experienced some elevation from the standard resting rate.
The results of the trials also shed light on how alcohol affects blood pressure. A single drink did not have much, if any, effect on the participants' blood pressure reading. However, after two drinks, blood pressure dropped slightly. More than two drinks caused a temporary drop in blood pressure before it became somewhat elevated about 13 hours after drinking.
The findings are in line with what people have been told about drinking. Light drinking can benefit cardiovascular health because it causes dilation in the vessels, leading to lower blood pressure. More frequent drinking or consuming two or more drinks can stress your system and strain your circulation.
Does Timing Make a Difference?
Most people drink in the evening, which would suggest that the rising heart rate would be persistent when most people sleep. Researchers have found that your heart rate will respond no matter when you drink, even if you are sleeping. According to one study, participants who drank moderate amounts of alcohol in the evening experienced an elevated heart rate of about 4%. Despite the increase, the heart rates returned to normal by the morning.
Drinking heavier amounts results in a more dramatic heart rate elevation. People who drank more than moderate amounts experienced an average heart rate elevation of 14%, and they experienced it for a longer duration. Most participants experienced an elevated heart rate throughout the evening and into the morning.
Ultimately, drinking alcohol does affect the cardiovascular system. In moderation, drinking does have some benefits. However, for people with cardiovascular issues or those at a greater risk of stroke or heart attack, it might be best to avoid alcohol altogether. While studies indicate healthy adults can safely consume alcohol, being aware of the increased heart rate and effects on blood pressure can allow for more informed decisions.