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Alcohol and Pulmonary Hypertension: Your Guide

Posted on June 28, 2021
Medically reviewed by
Allen J. Blaivas, D.O.
Article written by
Anika Brahmbhatt

If you are living with pulmonary hypertension (PH), you may be wondering how alcohol consumption might affect you. This is a common topic of discussion among members of myPHteam. “Limit the ingestion of stimulants like coffee or alcohol, which can provoke blood pressure irregularities,” said one member. Another noted, “I don't drink anymore. Too many meds say to avoid alcohol.”

Pulmonary hypertension is high blood pressure in the arteries that carry blood from the right side of the heart to the lungs. The condition affects 1 percent of people around the globe, and it may impact more than half of all people with heart failure, according to data from Mayo Clinic. Despite the prevalence of PH, many people with the condition find it difficult to navigate the conflicting information regarding alcohol's effect on their health.

One study looked at a general selection of men (who were not known to have PH). Researchers found that five-year follow-up pulmonary function tests showed no significant effects from alcohol. Other experts have suggested that reducing your alcohol intake can improve sleep, which may help boost your overall health with PH. Some sources suggest that red wine, in moderation, can be heart-healthy, due to a compound it contains called resveratrol.

So, how do you decide what approach to take? If you are trying to determine your best path forward with PH, here are some factors to think about. Consider including your health care provider in your decision-making process, as they can provide the best guidance tailored to your particular diagnosis.

How Does Alcohol Affect Your Health?

Alcohol consumption may be indirectly linked to the development of pulmonary hypertension, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. Researchers found that people who sustained liver damage from excessive drinking were at risk of developing severe PH.

The Dietary Guidelines for Americans, 2020-2025 recommends that men drink no more than two servings of alcohol per day and that women drink no more than one. (A serving is 12 ounces of beer, 5 ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of liquor.) According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, drinking too much alcohol can be a long-term risk factor for several negative health effects — whether or not someone has PH. These include:

  • A weakened immune system
  • Learning and memory problems
  • High blood pressure
  • Heart disease

Consuming alcohol can also increase a person’s risk of developing various types of cancer.

The Cleveland Clinic recommends that people with pulmonary hypertension drink less or cease alcohol consumption altogether. The Pulmonary Hypertension Association (PHA) advises avoiding alcohol within six hours of bedtime, and cautions against drinking at all if you have pulmonary arterial hypertension (PAH), which is high blood pressure in the lungs specifically caused by narrowed arteries.

“It is preferred that PAH patients avoid alcohol in any event since it can affect your liver, which is already being challenged by chronic heart failure,” according to the PHA. “It can also interact with several medications that you may be taking, especially anything you may take for sleep.”

Taking the time to eliminate alcohol from your life is a common topic on myPHteam. “Quitting alcohol is a big change,” one member said. “Be patient with yourself.”

The extent to which alcohol will interfere with your PH treatment will vary, based on your medical history and other risk factors. Ask your doctor how alcohol may interact with any medications you are taking, in addition to how it can affect your condition overall.

Your Mental Health Is Important

Research shows that people with certain chronic conditions may be more likely to consume unhealthy amounts of alcohol than those in the general population.

If you find yourself drinking alcohol to deal with mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression, consider making gradual lifestyle adjustments. These can include incorporating mindfulness-based meditation into your daily routine and finding a type of PH-safe physical activity that you enjoy doing consistently.

Connecting with friends, family, and other support systems can also be beneficial in cutting down or quitting alcohol consumption if you choose to do so.

Most importantly, remember that any endeavor that involves changing your habits — such as losing weight, changing your diet, and dealing with the emotional toll of having a chronic condition — takes time. Know that nothing can change overnight, and it's perfectly natural to see relapses of old habits.

Have open conversations with your health care provider about your goals — remember, their job is to work with you to improve your quality of life, not to judge you. Discuss treatment options with them, and share any concerns or difficulties. Ask questions about how you can sustain a healthy lifestyle and shift your habits gradually to avoid potentially life-threatening effects.

Get Support Today

Living with pulmonary hypertension has its challenges. It can help to know that you’re not alone. By joining myPHteam — the social network for people with PH and their loved ones — you can connect with a growing team of more than 35,000 members from across the globe who understand life with pulmonary hypertension.

How has drinking affected your pulmonary hypertension? Share your experiences in the comments below or by posting on myPHteam.

All updates must be accompanied by text or a picture.
Allen J. Blaivas, D.O. is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine in Critical Care Medicine, Pulmonary Disease, and Sleep Medicine. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about him here.
Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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