Heavy alcohol intake may cause high blood pressure and an irregular heart rate, which can cause chest pain. Alcohol may also correlate to anxiety, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), and other conditions that may cause chest pain.

Chronic alcohol consumption may affect blood pressure and heart rhythm, which may cause chest pain. Alcohol can also increase anxiety, which may result in panic attacks and chest pain.

Over time, heavy alcohol intake can damage the heart, increasing the risk of heart failure and stroke.

This article looks at the link between alcohol and chest pain, the effects of alcohol on heart health, and tips to prevent chest pain due to alcohol consumption.

A note about sex and gender

Sex and gender exist on spectrums. This article will use the terms “male,” “female,” or both to refer to sex assigned at birth. Click here to learn more.

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Drinking alcohol may cause chest pain for a number of reasons. Heavy alcohol consumption can affect heart health and may lead to a range of cardiovascular problems, including:

Drinking alcohol can be a trigger for angina. Angina is chest pain due to a temporary reduction of blood flow to the heart. This prevents the heart from getting enough oxygen, causing pain or discomfort in the chest. Angina usually signals underlying heart disease and blocked arteries.

Heavy alcohol consumption consists of four or more drinks for females in a single session and five or more drinks for males. This concentration of alcohol can increase blood pressure.

High blood pressure can reduce the elasticity of the arteries, decreasing blood flow and oxygen to the heart. In turn, this can result in chest pain.

High blood pressure is also a risk factor for developing an arrhythmia, or irregular heart rhythm. It can also cause atrial fibrillation.

Arrhythmias can cause pain or pressure in the chest. Other symptoms include:

  • palpitations
  • dizziness or lightheadedness
  • shortness of breath
  • sweat
  • fatigue

Alcohol consumption may increase anxiety. Alcohol is a depressant, which means it suppresses the nervous system. It can initially make people feel more relaxed and less inhibited.

However, once these effects wear off, regular heavy drinking may alter how the brain responds to alcohol. After the alcohol dissipates from the body, the nervous system may enter the “fight-or-flight” state. This is a similar response to that of an anxiety disorder.

Intense anxiety may lead to a panic attack. Symptoms of a panic attack can feel similar to a heart attack and include:

  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • heart palpitations
  • nausea
  • dizziness or lightheadedness

According to a 2018 review, alcohol may be a significant risk factor for developing GERD, also known as acid reflux. This risk increases with greater frequency and intake of alcohol.

Symptoms of GERD include:

  • chest pain
  • heartburn, which can cause a burning sensation in the chest
  • vomiting food or stomach acid
  • nausea

Chronic, heavy alcohol consumption is one of the most common causes of pancreatitis. Pancreatitis may cause severe abdominal pain that can spread to the chest. Other symptoms include:

  • increased heart rate
  • nausea
  • vomiting
  • fever
  • swelling or tenderness in the abdomen
  • jaundice, a yellowing of the skin and eyes

Frequent alcohol consumption may increase the risk of high blood pressure. Regardless of sex, drinking more than 1–2 drinks per day correlates to an increased risk of high blood pressure.

High blood pressure can damage the arteries and reduce blood and oxygen flow to the heart. This can increase the risk of heart disease, heart failure, and heart attack.

A 2019 study suggests that heavy drinking may cause heart damage before symptoms of heart disease appear. Participants who regularly consumed the most alcohol experienced:

  • an increase in potential heart injury
  • potential stretching of the heart wall
  • higher markers of inflammation

Heavy drinking can cause an irregular heart rate. This may occur after just one session of heavy drinking over a 24-hour period.

Chronic drinking can weaken the heart muscle and lead to alcohol-related cardiomyopathy. This can result from heavy drinking, such as consuming 4–5 drinks per day for several years. Alcohol-related cardiomyopathy may cause symptoms similar to congestive heart failure.

If a person has symptoms of a heart attack, they will need to call 911 or seek immediate medical attention. The main symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • pain or discomfort in the left or center of the chest that may come and go, or last for several minutes
  • chest pain that may feel like a tightness, squeezing, uncomfortable pressure, or fullness
  • pain or discomfort in the back, neck, jaw, arms, or shoulders
  • shortness of breath
  • lightheadedness
  • weakness or fatigue
  • sweat
  • nausea or vomiting

The sooner a person receives medical help, the more effective treatment is to reduce heart damage.

Certain steps may help prevent chest pain from alcohol and protect heart health, including:

  • Reduce alcohol intake or avoid drinking alcohol.
  • Keep within the recommended guidelines of alcohol intake, which is a maximum of 2 drinks for males and 1 drink for females per day.
  • Have several alcohol-free days per week.
  • Avoid or quit smoking.
  • Maintain a moderate weight.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Eat a healthy, balanced diet.
  • Manage stress by taking time to relax and rest.
  • Treat high blood pressure, diabetes, or any other underlying conditions.

Resources are available for people who desire help to stop drinking alcohol or reduce their intake. If alcohol intake affects a person’s health or well-being, they can talk with a healthcare professional or organization for support and advice.

Alcohol can increase blood pressure, cause an irregular heart rhythm, and affect blood flow to the heart. Any of these can result in chest pain.

Alcohol may also trigger angina, anxiety and panic attacks, or increase the risk of GERD. Chest pain can result from these conditions.

Chronic alcohol intake can damage the blood vessels and heart, increasing the risk of cardiovascular disease, heart attack, and stroke.

If a person has chest pain after drinking alcohol, it is important to talk with a doctor to determine the underlying cause. Immediate medical attention is necessary for people with symptoms of a heart attack.