Binge Drinking, High Blood Pressure a Lethal Combo

August 19, 2010

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By Amanda Gardner

THURSDAY, August 19 (Health.com) — It’s no secret that high blood pressure increases your risk of heart disease and stroke. Nor should it come as a surprise that binge drinking isn’t the healthiest habit. But a new study suggests that combining the two may add up to double the trouble—and much more, in some cases.

Compared to teetotalers with normal blood pressure, men with high blood pressure (hypertension) who even occasionally down more than six drinks in one sitting have nearly double the risk of dying from a stroke or heart attack, according to the study, which followed 6,100 South Koreans age 55 and up for two decades.

If men with high blood pressure have 12 drinks or more at one time, their risk is nearly five times higher, the study found.

“Somehow the binge drinking compounds [high blood pressure]—and more than just a little bit,” says Brian Silver, MD, a neurologist at Henry Ford Hospital, in Detroit, and a spokesman for the American Heart Association (AHA).

But the researchers, who are based at Yonsei University, in Seoul, can’t say for sure that binge drinking directly caused strokes and heart attacks in the hypertensive men. The study was based on surveys and did not take into account the timing of the binge drinking and subsequent cardiovascular events.

Still, the findings ring true, says J. Chad Teeters, MD, a cardiologist at the University of Rochester Medical Center, in New York.

“There have been studies that [drinking] alcohol can increase blood pressure 15 to 20 points,” he says. “And if you start off hypertensive, raising your blood pressure 15 or 20 points probably does as much as double your risk of stroke, so this certainly fits with things we already know.”

Men with severe high blood pressure are at even greater risk, according to the study. If those men have six drinks in one sitting, their risk of a deadly stroke or heart attack quadruples compared to that of a nondrinker with normal blood pressure. If they consume 12 drinks in a sitting, their risk increases 12-fold.

Next page: What’s normal blood pressure?


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