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Addiction and Substance Abuse

Heart problems from alcohol?

10/11/2007

Question:

I`m 32 years old and drink regularly -- anywhere from 4-20 beers in one sitting. Starting about a year ago, I would become dizzy as I was falling asleep the day after I drank heavily. It`s continued for some time but I`ve learned to live with it. Then, a couple weeks ago I was eating breakfast after a heavy bout of drinking and felt a sensation like I couldn`t swallow. I then felt my heart kind of flutter and I became very dizzy. Afterwards I had tremendous anxiety and the only thing that helped was to drink a beer. This happened again about a week ago. I was drinking the previous evening and decided to get some exercise on a cardio machine at the gym. My heart rate got up to about 170 beats per minute or so. I then went into the steam room and felt my heart flutter again. I then felt a sensation of panic that persisted throughout the day and into the evening. I thought I was having a heart attack at one point and called 9-1-1. They didn`t see anything while I was in the ambulance and I went back home. Any idea of what this could be?

Answer:

Thank you for your question. 

It sounds like there is quite a drinking problem going on here, and it is causing some heart rhythm issues as well as nerve problems.  Although it is difficult to be sure, based upon your careful description of the symptoms you are having, it sounds like periodic or intermittent alterations in the way your heart beats (heart rhythm) triggered by drinking binges or by the after effects (hangover) from drinking binges. This can certainly happen and many of my patients describe similar symptoms prior to their getting sober. 

The actual mechanism that causes these feelings is not clear, but have been described as the "holiday heart syndrome" - indicating rhythm problems after substantial binge drinking.  The symptoms generally go away on their own after a few hours - as you have experienced - but if they linger, then going to the Emergency Room is needed.  Sometimes these sorts of symptoms are so distressing that they cause you to get very nervous and panic - causing a true anxiety attack.

Clearly the best way to deal with all of these symptoms is to deal with the underlying cause - the drinking problem.  Getting help to stop drinking will result in several things: 

If you need advice about how to stop drinking, please write back.

For more information:

Go to the Addiction and Substance Abuse health topic, where you can:

Response by:

Ted   Parran, MD Ted Parran, MD
Associate Professor of General Medical Sciences
School of Medicine
Case Western Reserve University