One in three adults in the UK and US has high blood pressure, also known as ‘hypertension’. Alcohol can play a role in high blood pressure but you can keep your risk low by following the government’s guidelines. Get the facts on blood pressure and how you can help keep yours in check.
What is high blood pressure?
When your heart beats, it pumps blood round your body to give the body the energy and oxygen it needs. Pressure is needed to make the blood circulate. The pressure pushes against the walls of your arteries (blood vessels) and your blood pressure is a measure of the strength of this pushing, combined with the resistance from the artery walls.
A normal heart pumps blood around the body easily, at a low pressure. High blood pressure means that your heart must pump harder and the arteries have to carry blood that’s flowing under greater pressure.
This puts a strain on your arteries and your heart, which in turn increases your risk of a heart attack, a stroke or of suffering from kidney disease.
What are the symptoms of high blood pressure
You can’t usually feel or notice high blood pressure. In fact, the British Heart Foundation estimate that around seven million people with high blood pressure are undiagnosed. This is because high blood pressure very rarely causes any obvious symptoms.
What causes high blood pressure?
There isn’t always a clear explanation as to why someone’s blood pressure is high. However, there are several factors that can play a part in increasing the risks of developing hypertension:
- Regularly drinking alcohol beyond the low-risk guidelines
- Not doing enough exercise
- Being overweight
- A family history of high blood pressure
- Consuming too much salt.
High Blood Pressure and Alcohol
Some research shows that drinking alcohol in moderation makes for a healthier heart. But is drinking risky or good for your blood pressure? Weigh the pros and cons to help you make the smart choice.
Is Alcohol Good for High Blood Pressure?
It likely depends a lot on what else is going on with you.
First things first: Your best bets for lowering blood pressure are losing weight through diet and exercise, cutting sodium intake, and reducing stress.
But what if you enjoy a drink or two now and then? Light-moderate drinking (defined as up to two drinks a day for men, one for women) has shown a subtle drop in blood pressure in some cases. In small amounts, it has been shown to lower blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg (millimeters of mercury) in women. Most experts agree, though, that does not show a significant enough drop to advise drinking for an entire population.
Alcohol: Does it affect blood pressure?
Drinking alcohol can seem like a casual way to relax, or something you do without giving it much thought, but the effects of drinking, particularly in excess, are far-reaching and often severe. Alcohol affects your mind and your body, sometimes in profound ways.
One area that people frequently wonder about is alcohol and blood pressure. Does alcohol lower blood pressure temporarily, or does it have another effect on blood pressure?
Below is information about blood pressure in general, and things to know about alcohol and blood pressure.
Before looking at alcohol and blood pressure and answering questions like “does alcohol lower blood pressure temporarily,” what are the possible complications of high blood pressure?
High blood pressure is a common condition in the U.S., and it’s linked to many things such as obesity, certain medications, and other lifestyle factors.
High blood pressure is manageable and can be reduced by making changes in your lifestyle and often medications as well, but what if it goes untreated?
High blood pressure that’s not controlled can cause heart attacks, stroke, and heart failure. It can also lead to kidney failure, vision loss, angina, and something called peripheral artery disease.
If your blood pressure is too high for too long, it can cause damage to your blood vessels, and that can cause tears in artery walls. Not only are you at risk for serious and often deadly conditions, but it can diminish your quality of life.
It’s important to learn what factors in your life influence your blood pressure and take steps to keep it at a healthy level.
There are ways you can control your blood pressure even without the use of medicine to reduce the risk of outcomes like heart disease. For example, losing weight particularly around your abdomen is incredibly helpful, as is regular physical activity. A blood pressure-friendly diet should include whole grains, vegetables, and fruit and it should limit saturated fat and cholesterol, as well as sodium.
So, what about alcohol and blood pressure? Does alcohol lower blood pressure temporarily, or is the effect quite the opposite?
Effect of Alcohol Abstinence on Blood Pressure
If you’re looking for ways to be healthier, you should consider the link between alcohol and blood pressure. Alcohol can be good for your health, in very limited amounts. Does alcohol lower blood pressure temporarily? Alcohol can possibly lower your blood pressure by 2 to 4 mm Hg, in extreme moderation.
However, the positive effects of alcohol and blood pressure are quickly lost if you drink too much. The recommended maximum amount of alcohol you should have in a day is one drink if you’re a woman, and no more than two if you’re a man. If you’re a man older than age 65, the recommendation is no more than one drink a day as well.
You should note what’s meant by one drink because this is important. The servings you’re used to may be the same as two or more drinks.
In terms of alcohol and blood pressure, a serving would be 12 ounces of beer, five ounces of wine, or 1.5 ounces of hard liquor.
With alcohol and blood pressure, if you drink more than this it can raise your blood pressure by several points, and you may also reduce how well your medications are able to work for treating high blood pressure.
A lot of people are also under the impression that red wine is a cure-all healthy alcoholic drink, particularly regarding heart health and things like blood pressure. It’s true that red wine can have some health-related benefits, but again, only in moderation.
If you’re concerned about your blood pressure, you shouldn’t try to self-medicate with alcohol. Instead, you should follow the recommendations of your physician or healthcare provider.
Does drinking alcohol affect your blood pressure?
Drinking too much alcohol can raise blood pressure to unhealthy levels. Having more than three drinks in one sitting temporarily increases your blood pressure, but repeated binge drinking can lead to long-term increases.
Heavy drinkers who cut back to moderate drinking can lower their systolic blood pressure (the top number in a blood pressure reading) by 2 to 4 millimeters of mercury (mm Hg) and their diastolic blood pressure (the bottom number in a blood pressure reading) by 1 to 2 mm Hg.
Heavy drinkers who want to lower blood pressure should slowly reduce how much they drink over one to two weeks. Heavy drinkers who stop suddenly risk developing severe high blood pressure for several days.
If you have high blood pressure, avoid alcohol or drink alcohol only in moderation. Moderate drinking is generally considered to be:
- Two drinks a day for men younger than age 65
- One drink a day for men age 65 and older
- One drink a day for women of any age
- A drink is 12 ounces (355 milliliters) of beer, 5 ounces (148 milliliters) of wine or 1.5 ounces (44 milliliters) of 80-proof distilled spirits.
Keep in mind that alcohol contains calories and may contribute to unwanted weight gain — a risk factor for high blood pressure. Also, alcohol can interfere with the effectiveness and increase the side effects of some blood pressure medications.