The simple answer: Yes. Drinking alcohol causes high blood pressure. But to what degree? How much alcohol do you need to drink to raise your blood pressure and what are the long-term issues?
What is high blood pressure?
Firstly, it will be useful to explain what high blood pressure is and why it is dangerous. Your heart is responsible for pumping blood around your body supplying the energy and oxygen it needs to function. Pressure is needed to achieve this and this requires effort from the heart. A normal, healthy heart can manage this at low pressure. Alcohol contains a lot of calories and sugar and is a particularly potent source of “bad cholesterol” in your blood. This, combined with the tendency to gain weight if you drink heavily, can cause high blood pressure, meaning that your heart needs to work harder to pump blood around your body. This puts a strain on your heart and increases your risk of stroke or heart attack.
Does alcohol cause high blood pressure? Is it temporary?
If you have more than three drinks in one sitting, your blood pressure will increase, but it will only be a temporary change unless you are a regular, heavy drinker. If you wish to reduce the risk of high blood pressure from alcohol, it is best to keep within the recommended guidelines for alcohol consumption - neither men nor women should drink more than 14 units of alcohol per week
. If you do drink as much as 14 units, you should spread these over three days or more rather than binge drinking. If you are a heavy drinker, reducing your intake of alcohol will reduce your blood pressure and will probably also help you lose weight.
Is it true that drinking red wine is good for your heart?
You may have heard that people in Mediterranean countries, who tend to drink red wine in particular as part of their regular diet, appear to have fewer strokes and heart attacks than those with a Northern European diet. This in turn has led to the claim in the media that drinking red wine is good for your heart. There is some evidence that the antioxidants in red wine may help increase the levels of “good cholesterol” in your blood and therefore reducing the risk of heart disease but this has not been clinically proven. Doctors are still reluctant to recommend drinking red wine as too much will still have a detrimental effect on your health.
How will I know if I have high blood pressure?
High blood pressure in itself does not usually cause any symptoms and you will only know if your blood pressure is high by having it tested by the doctors. Alcohol consumption is just one of the possible causes of high blood pressure. By keeping your drinking within the recommended guidelines, you will be reducing the risk of high blood pressure caused by alcohol.
What are the long-term risks of heavy drinking on blood pressure?
Regular heavy drinking increases heart pressure gradually and it can take 2 – 4 weeks of abstinence before your blood pressure will start to reduce. In particular repeated binge drinking appears to increase the risk of long-term increases.