Why does my chest hurt when I drink alcohol?
From simple dehydration to serious heart problems, alcohol-related chest problems can have a wide variety of causes.
If you are a heavy drinker and/or regularly experience chest pain after drinking alcohol, you shouldn’t ignore the problem. In such cases, it’s possible that alcohol is only a trigger for a more serious health problem.
These are the most common reasons for alcohol chest pain:
Table of contents
- Why does my chest hurt when I drink alcohol?
- Heart and cardiovascular effects
- Heartburn after drinking alcohol
- Final thoughts
Alcohol decreases the production of vasopressin (also called antidiuretic hormone). This hormone helps your body to reabsorb water, therefore decreased vasopressin levels will make you urinate more, which can lead to loss of water and various electrolytes.
Both water and electrolytes – that contain elements like calcium, sodium, potassium – are important for your muscles. Losing too much of them can lead to headaches and all kinds of muscle pains, including chest pain.
Binge drinking and drinking on empty stomach make dehydration more likely.
Common signs of dehydration:
- dry mouth
Some useful tips to avoid dehydration:
- Drink slowly: your body metabolizes alcohol fairly slowly, drinking faster than your body breaks down alcohol will lead to dehydration
- Eat: food slows down the increase of blood alcohol concentration, this helps to slow down dehydration
- Drink water: replenishing the lost water is a fairly obvious tip, while drinking alcohol, also drink some water
What to do if you are dehydrated? These tips can help if you are feeling dehydrated or hungover the next day of drinking alcohol:
- Drink water, if it contains electrolytes, it’s even better.
- Get some food, this will help with your blood sugar.
- Some moderate exercise can help you feel better more quickly.
- Taking a hot bath can also help you feel better.
- If you can, get some sleep.
Most people experience some level of dehydration after drinking alcohol, that will just go away the next day.
However heavy binge drinking can lead to severe dehydration, which is a medical emergency. Read more about severe dehydration here.
Heart and cardiovascular effects
Even though alcohol in small quantities – i.e roughly one beer a day – might have a positive effect on your heart and cardiovascular system (and even this is debated), many people tend to drink way more than the recommended daily amount.
Drinking large quantities and/or drinking regularly can lead to various heart and blood pressure problems.
These are the most common problems that long term drinkers might develop:
In some cases cardiomyopathy might cause no symptoms, especially in the early stages, however, these are the most common symptoms:
- shortness of breath
- palpitations, irregular heartbeat
- chest pain
It takes years of heavy drinking to develop alcoholic cardiomyopathy. If you are a heavy drinker and experience one or more of the symptoms above, you really should go to a doctor.
It is fairly easy to detect cardiomyopathy with a simple x-ray and early detection is very important to prevent the problem from getting worse.
Alcohol abuse increases the risk of a heart attack.
Heart attacks during holiday seasons tend to peak, doctors even gave a name to this phenomenon: holiday heart syndrome.
This is usually caused by binge drinking, even healthy people can have a heart attack after drinking way too much alcohol.
Eating too much fatty food, which also happens often during holidays, just makes the problem worse.
While binge drinking can increase the risk of a heart attack, long-term heavy drinking is even worse.
A heart attack is an emergency that requires immediate help.
if you want to know more about heart attack, we recommend the website of the American Heart Association.
Heartburn after drinking alcohol
What is acid reflux?
Acid reflux is a disease where the lower esophageal sphincter or LES, does not close properly after food passes. This causes acid to move out of the stomach and into the esophagus.
Reflux may cause heartburn and chest discomfort. If this starts to happen two times a week or more, it becomes known as acid reflux disease or GERD (Gastro-Esophageal Reflux Disease).
Does alcohol cause heartburn?
Each person may experience acid reflux for a wide variety of causes.
Even though it is still debated if alcohol is a trigger for acid reflux, many doctors agree that drinking alcohol can increase the risk of experiencing reflux symptoms.
If you feel chest pain after drinking alcohol, you need to avoid it as much as possible.
The reason that alcohol can cause issues with acid reflux is that it helps relax your esophageal sphincter. This sets up the perfect conditions for the acid in the stomach to leave that area and start to creep up the esophagus and causes a lot of pain. You will have an even higher risk if you decide to drink alcohol and enjoy a large meal at the same time.
There are a few reasons that alcohol can cause acid reflux. Some of them are:
- Causes irritation to the stomach and the throat.
- Will relax the muscles that lead right to the stomach.
- Will affect the acid in the stomach, causing the stomach to produce more acid.
- Affects the food choices that you make, which will make you more likely to choose foods that will cause more heartburn.
- Many alcoholic beverages are carbonated or sugary, which will make the problem worse.
Alcohol with orange juice or soda
While alcohol on its own can cause some nasty acid reflux, it can get worse if you mix it with other drinks that cause acid reflux on their own.
For example, if you mix the alcohol with soda or orange juice, this will just aggravate the reflux. This means if you already have issues with acid reflux, then you should never mix these drinks, or the pain may become even worse.
For those who would like to mix their alcohol and hopefully reduce the issues with acid reflux, it is important to choose something low in acid. This would include something simple like carrot or apple juice.
It’s even better to mix alcohol with some water. These will not relax the esophagus as much and can keep the amount of acid that creeps out of your stomach down to a minimum.
How to manage alcohol-triggered acid reflux?
There are a few steps you can take to manage acid reflux that occurs with alcohol.
The best option is to limit how much alcohol you consume in the first place. And if you do consume this beverage, choose to mix it with options that are low in acid, such as apple and carrot juice, instead of other options that may be more popular, like orange juice, but which will make the acid worse.
Acid reflux is something that no one wants to deal with. It is important to avoid drinking alcohol too much when you have acid reflux disease in order to keep the acid down and make yourself feel better.
How to relieve alcohol-related chest pain?
The first and most important thing to do is to drink less, drink slowly, or avoid alcohol completely.
Secondly, try to avoid drinking on empty stomach. Foods slow down the absorption of alcohol, which gives your body more time to metabolize the alcohol. However, you should avoid fatty or sugary foods, as those can make your symptoms worse.
Drink water while drinking alcohol, it helps to avoid dehydration.
When to see a doctor?
If the pain happens regularly or you are a long-term drinker, chest pain after alcohol consumption can indicate a serious heart problem, which should never be ignored.
Even healthy people can have heart problems when drinking way too much alcohol.
Sharp chest pain accompanied by sweating, nausea or left shoulder pain might indicate a heart attack, which requires immediate medical attention.
When in doubt, it’s always best to talk to a doctor to diagnose the cause of your alcohol-related chest pain!
Many people experience chest pain after drinking alcohol. As long as:
- it happens very occasionally
- you are in good general health
- you are not a long term drinker
- do not drink excessive amounts
- the pain goes away in a few hours
there is probably nothing to worry about.