Binge Drinking Risky with High Blood Pressure

Those with hypertension who binge drink up their risk of heart-related death.

August 20, 2010, 1:51 PM

Aug. 22, 2010— -- Binging on alcohol may be especially dangerous for men with high blood pressure, or hypertension, researchers found.

Six or more drinks at a sitting boosted the risk of heart-related death more than fourfold for patients with severe hypertension compared with nondrinkers with normal blood pressure, found Dr. Heechoul Ohrr of Yonsei University in Seoul, South Korea, and colleagues.

Twelve or more drinks at a time increased risk of dying from cardiovascular causes nearly 13-fold in the presence of severe hypertension, they reported in the October issue of Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association.

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The absolute risk for heart problems associated with binge drinking, while small for nondrinkers without hypertension at 0.2 percent per year in the study, jumped to a "nontrivial" 2.7 percent per year for these heavy binge drinkers with grade 3 hypertension, commented Dr. Brian Silver of the Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

"In general, everybody should moderate their drinking, but in particular if you have elevated blood pressure there's even more reason to control the consumption of alcohol," he said in an interview.

The American Heart Association (AHA) recommends no more than two drinks per day for men and one for women for those who chose to drink, noted Silver, who serves as an AHA spokesperson.

Heavy drinking, though, is common in South Korea, where nearly half of adult men binge at least once a week and 9.2 percent of women do the same, Ohrr's group explained.

Their study followed more than 6,100 residents of an agricultural community in South Korea for 20.8 years.

Among these adults, who were all age 55 or older, 15.5 percent of men with normal blood pressure and 17.8 percent of men with high blood pressure reported moderate binge drinking (six or more drinks at a sitting) while 3.1 percent and 3.9 percent, respectively, reported heavy binge drinking (12 or more at a sitting).

Heavy binge drinking itself tended to be associated with a doubled risk of death from cardiovascular disease and hypertensive disease even after taking into account age, hypertension status, smoking, body mass index, and total alcohol consumption, along with other factors.

Binge Drinking May Raise Blood Pressure, Leading to Problems

The results likely generalize outside of Korea, Silver suggested.

"This is probably a true biological effect" that would be seen regardless of the region studied, although replication elsewhere is needed, he told MedPage Today.

Ohrr's group speculated that the link between binge drinking and hypertension may be that, as seen in prior studies, binge drinking increases blood pressure, causes arterial stiffness and endothelial dysfunction, and precipitates cardiac arrhythmia.

They noted that the rural Koreans studied rarely drank wine or beer, opting instead for local alcohol varieties known as soju and makkoli.

The study may have been limited by lack of accounting for former drinkers or for antihypertensive medication use, by rough classification of smoking, and by the small sample sizes in some of the comparisons, according to the authors.

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