Many people consume alcohol without doing it to excess, but it’s important to remember that a night of heavy drinking can result in a number of unique symptoms. Chest pain after drinking alcohol can arise from a variety of causes. If you regularly experience chest pain after consuming alcohol, it is likely that alcohol is a trigger for a more serious health problem.
Table of Contents
- Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Chest Pain?
- What Can Cause Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol?
- What Can Cause a Stabbing Pain in the Chest After Drinking Alcohol?
- How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?
- How To Prevent Chest Pain When Drinking Alcohol?
- When Should You Consult a Doctor?
- Key Takeaways
Can Drinking Alcohol Cause Chest Pain?
While it’s not a defined condition, drinking alcohol can directly cause symptoms like an irregular heartbeat, breathlessness, or chest pain, sometimes known as holiday heart syndrome due to it being highly reported during the holiday seasons.
Pain in the chest after drinking alcohol can indicate a number of problems that may be directly or indirectly related to the consumption of alcohol.
What Can Cause Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol?
If you consume alcohol on a regular basis your chest pain may stem from one or some of the following reasons:
Alcohol in small quantities can have a positive effect on your heart and your cardiovascular system, but drinking large quantities can result in alcoholic cardiomyopathy, which is the weakening of the heart muscles.
As the muscles are weaker they cannot pump enough blood into the organs, which can cause irregular heartbeats or heart failure. While in some cases, there are no symptoms of cardiomyopathy, some of the most common include fatigue, chest pain, shortness of breath, and dizziness.
Alcohol increases the risk of a heart attack, and binge drinking over the holiday season results in a higher likelihood of heart attacks. Even healthy people are at risk of having a heart attack if they consume too much alcohol.
A heart attack arising from drinking can either be caused by binge drinking, where people consume too much in a short space of time, as well as long-term heavy drinking over time, which can pose a bigger risk for a heart attack.
Alcohol-related anxiety involves the symptoms of a hangover, but with added psychological symptoms. Anxiety is a commonly reported symptom and can also be accompanied by chest pain or tightness. Alcohol-related anxiety can be more prevalent in people who use alcohol as a way to overcome shyness.
Studies have shown a significant correlation between anxiety elevation the day after drinking, suggesting that anxiety during a hangover is linked to alcohol use disorder in people who are more introverted.
Many people have anecdotally used alcohol as a way to quell the symptoms of anxiety or mental health concerns for decades, but because alcohol is a stimulant in itself, this can already cause feelings of anxiety but an individual who is more predisposed to feeling stressed could feel anxiety on a greater level because they could recall what they did while intoxicated.
Alcohol and Drug Interactions
People who take prescription drugs for health reasons or those who are abusing narcotics that can increase heart rate, like cocaine, can run the risk of experiencing chest pain because of an interaction with both substances and alcohol. Additionally, cigarettes can cause chest pain when combined with alcohol because this increases blood pressure and can increase symptoms of acid reflux.
One of the causes for a sharp or stabbing pain in the chest after drinking alcohol could be acid reflux. Consuming alcohol in excessive amounts can cause acid reflux, which occurs when the sphincter muscle at the lower end of the esophagus allows stomach acid back up into the esophagus.
While acid reflux is commonly associated with certain foods and drinking alcohol in combination with these foods can exacerbate acid reflux, alcohol abuse by itself can worsen acid reflux symptoms because it damages the inside of the esophagus. Additionally, alcohol consumed with drinks that cause acid reflux, such as orange juice or soda, can aggravate the symptoms.
Experiencing pain in the lower chest could be a sign of pancreatitis. Alcohol consumption can exacerbate the symptoms and cause additional damage to the pancreas. If you are experiencing pain in the lower chest arising from pancreatitis, it’s important to visit the doctor immediately, as the damage can be irreversible.
Alcohol is very dehydrating as it decreases the production of vasopressin, which is a hormone that helps your body reabsorb water. Decreased vasopressin levels result in loss of water and electrolytes, such as calcium, potassium, and sodium, and depleted electrolytes can cause heart palpitations, resulting in chest pain.
Most people experience some dehydration after drinking alcohol, which will go away after consuming enough water. However, ongoing drinking habits like binge drinking can lead to severe dehydration, which requires emergency medical treatment.
An Undiagnosed Cancer
If you experience pain in the chest this could be an irritation of the lymph nodes caused by cancer such as Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Undiagnosed Hodgkin’s Lymphoma could cause chest pain when consuming alcohol, which demands diagnosis, and if caught in its early stages, common treatment plans provide positive outcomes.
What Can Cause a Stabbing Pain in the Chest After Drinking Alcohol?
Alcohol can cause chest pain based on the above reasons, but why does it happen? Alcohol causes chest pain because it increases your blood pressure, resulting in an irregular heartbeat (known as atrial fibrillation), which reduces the blood flow to the heart, causing chest pain, commonly known as angina.
How Does Alcohol Affect the Heart?
The heart and the blood vessels are part of the cardiovascular system, where the blood is pumped around the body by the heart via blood vessels to arteries, veins, and capillaries, and delivers nutrients to all parts of the body, including alcohol, which can be absorbed directly into the bloodstream via the stomach and the small intestine.
Abusing alcohol in the long term can cause chest pain because heavy drinking causes the heart muscles to expand, which weakens the heart and limits its ability to pump blood. Alcohol can also increase the heart rate or the variability in how the heart beats, which are the spaces between beats. Regular heavy drinking can cause episodes of increased heart rates arising from problems in the electrical signals, also known as tachycardia.
How To Prevent Chest Pain When Drinking Alcohol?
If you are experiencing chest pain when you are drinking alcohol and you recognize that alcohol is directly causing this, it’s important to moderate or stop your intake of alcohol altogether. If the chest pain is the symptom of a completely different problem, it’s important to speak to a doctor.
Lifestyle choices can greatly prevent chest pain, for example, having a healthy diet and undertaking regular exercise can prevent chest pain and the many conditions associated with it, like heart disease. However, if you are noticing a link between chest pain and the consumption of alcohol, but you feel you cannot limit your intake, this could be a sign of alcohol dependence or addiction. Therefore, you need to get professional help as soon as possible.
When Should You Consult a Doctor?
If you are experiencing chest pain during or after drinking alcohol, you should go visit a doctor. This will ensure that you identify any potential conditions for health problems as soon as possible and get the appropriate treatment.
Ignoring the problem can result in a number of serious health problems but prolonged alcohol abuse can also cause a heart attack. A heart attack starts with chest pain that feels especially tight or heavy and spreads to other parts of the body like the arms and back. It can also cause difficulty breathing. If you experience any of these symptoms for more than 15 minutes, you need to go to the hospital as it is an emergency.
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Many people experience chest pain after drinking alcohol, but chest pain can have different effects on individuals.
The effect of consuming alcohol on the risk of coronary heart disease has thrown up a number of studies on how it affects the heart, with some highlighting that alcohol consumption may not affect certain parts of the heart. However, if you have a reliance on alcohol or you are at risk for any of the above conditions, it is important to make sure that you get checked over by a professional to make sure the chest pain is not related to a long-term health condition or an undiagnosed one.
Many people who are in good general health or do not drink excessive amounts can find the pain soon disappears. But people who are experiencing a lot of chest pain after drinking alcohol on a regular basis need to acquire medical support as a priority.
- Gonzalo Guzzo-Merello, Marta Cobo-Marcos, Maria Gallego-Delgado, and Pablo Garcia-Pavia (2014). Alcoholic cardiomyopathy. World Journal of Cardiology, 6(8): 771-781. Available from: https://doi.org/10.4330%2Fwjc.v6.i8.771
- Beth Marsh, Molly Carlyle, Emily Carter, Paige Hughes, Sarah McGahey, Will Lawn, Tobias Stevens, Amy McAndrew, Celia J.A.Morgan (2018). Shyness, alcohol use disorders and ‘hangxiety’: A naturalistic study of social drinkers. Personality and Individual Differences. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.paid.2018.10.034
- Marja Aira, Sirpa Hartikainen, Raimo Sulkava (2018). Drinking alcohol for medicinal purposes by people aged over 75: a community-based interview study. Family Practice, Volume 25, Issue 6, Pages 445–449. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/fampra/cmn065
- Ed J. M. Pennings, Arthur P. Leccese, Frederik A. de Wolff (2002). Effects of concurrent use of alcohol and cocaine. Addiction, Volume 97, Issue 7. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1046/j.1360-0443.2002.00158.x
- Michael Roerecke, Jürgen Rehm (2010). Irregular Heavy Drinking Occasions and Risk of Ischemic Heart Disease: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis. American Journal of Epidemiology, Volume 171, Issue 6, 15 March 2010, Pages 633–644. Available from: https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwp451
DrHouse articles are written by MDs, NPs, nutritionists and other healthcare professionals. The contents of the DrHouse site are for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you are experiencing high fever (>103F/39.4C), shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, chest pain, heart palpitations, abnormal bruising, abnormal bleeding, extreme fatigue, dizziness, new weakness or paralysis, difficulty with speech, confusion, extreme pain in any body part, or inability to remain hydrated or keep down fluids or feel you may have any other life-threatening condition, please go to the emergency department or call 911 immediately.