How Does Alcohol Cause Hypertension?

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Increased Pressure

The amount of alcohol one drinks will have a significant effect on absorption rates in the body. Higher concentrations of alcohol will have faster absorption. The liver, which cleanses the body of poisons, can be overwhelmed by sudden high alcohol content, resulting in imbalances throughout the rest of the body, including a buildup of fats in the bloodstream that may lead to heart problems. Red blood cells may clump together, starving the tissues of oxygen and causing cell death. This may put too much pressure on the heart. Blood may be forced through the arteries at an increased rate leading to high blood pressure. In extreme cases hypertension may cause heart attack, heart failure and other serious disorders. Symptoms of high blood pressure often go unnoticed but may include headache, sleepiness, confusion and coma. For many people with high blood pressure the cause is unknown. But underlying causes include alcohol abuse and other diseases in the arteries supplying the kidneys, according to, a website with information from health care professionals.

Alcohol Without Food

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Research has shown a relationship between heavy alcohol use and hypertension, but a study reported in a 2004 issue of Hypertension, a publication of the American Heart Association, found that consuming alcohol without food raises blood pressure even more. In a review of 2,609 people, ages 35 to 80 in New York, it was concluded that drinking without food intake produced an increased risk of high blood pressure. There was no difference in whether the subjects were drinking beer, wine or liquor, according to the researchers at the State University of New York in Buffalo, East Tennessee State University in Johnson City, the Prevention Research Center in Berkeley, California, and the University of Naples Medical School in Italy.

Moderate Drinking

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The Mayo Clinic reports that heavy drinkers who reduce their drinking to moderate amounts may lower their systolic blood pressure, the top number on the blood pressure reading. However, people who even drink moderately may be at risk for high blood pressure, because a gene may be involved, according to researchers at the University of Bristol, in the U.K. They looked at people with a genetic mutation that leads to difficultly in metabolizing alcohol. The mutation is often found in Asians and can cause sickness after drinking alcohol. The people in these areas drink much less alcohol than in other populations. Researchers compared a group with the mutation to people without it and found that moderate drinkers without the mutation had higher blood pressure rates than those lacking it who drank only small amounts or no alcohol. Dr. Sarah Lewis, who headed the study, says it shows a greater risk of high blood pressure among moderate drinkers than previously thought, according to a 2008 report from the university.