Chest pain after drinking wine

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Chest and stomach pain after drinking wine are not uncommon and are most often associated with the alcohol content of wine.

Acid reflux, heart issues, and hypersensitivity reactions are the most common causes of symptoms.

Why does wine make your chest hurt?

Wine and grapes

By far the most common cause of chest discomfort after drinking wine is its alcohol content. However, sometimes other ingredients might also cause symptoms:

  • Alcohol: Alcohol in wine increases blood pressure that might cause atrial fibrillation. The heart rate increases without providing sufficient blood to the body, leading to chest pain.
  • Sulfites: Those who are sensitive to sulfites might experience a wide range of health issues after drinking wine. Skin problems, asthmatic reactions, chest and abdominal pains are all possible symptoms.
  • Tannins: Tannins in wine can also trigger digestive problems. Those who are sensitive to tannins might experience stomach pain, nausea, sometimes even chest pain.
  • Sugar: A glass of sweet dessert wine can contain as much as 8g of sugar. Long-term overconsumption of sugar is associated with serious health risks. On top of that, some people might have gas after sugar intake, which might increase stomach pressure and cause chest pain.

People suffering from certain underlying medical conditions are more likely to experience chest discomfort after drinking wine. Chest pain after drinking wine is mainly triggered by:

Heartburn after drinking wine

Heartburn is probably the most common cause of experiencing chest pain after drinking wine, especially among those, who have a healthy heart and don’t drink too much.

Alcohol is a common heartburn trigger for many reasons:

  • Relaxes the lower esophageal sphincter. This muscle is between the stomach and the food pipe and prevents digestive juices from seeping up into the esophagus. A relaxed muscle makes the flow-back (reflux) of stomach acids more likely.
  • This study found that both wine and beer are strong stimulants of stomach acid production.
  • Drinking too much wine, just like drinking or eating too much of anything, increases the pressure in the stomach. Those who have excess gas after sweet wine are more at risk.

Those who experience heartburn after drinking wine might try small amounts of other alcoholic beverages. Spirits are less likely to trigger heartburn and beer is probably even worse for acid reflux than wine.

Heart pain and wine

It is still debated whether small amounts of red wine are beneficial for the heart or not. However, most researchers agree that you shouldn’t start drinking wine for heart benefits.

On the other hand, there is a wide consensus about the detrimental effects of too much alcohol on heart health.

Prolonged use of alcohol can cause the weakening of heart muscles (alcoholic cardiomyopathy) and limits the pumping of the heart, leading to chest pain and heart-related abnormalities.

Can wine cause a heart attack?

Alcohol is a major risk factor for heart diseases. Small amounts of wine may be beneficial, but drinking too much wine is definitely linked to an increased risk of cardiovascular problems.

Drinking wine in large amounts increases cholesterol levels in your body. High LDL (bad cholesterol) causes plaque formation that builds up and leads to atherosclerosis (narrowing of blood vessels).

Atherosclerosis causes thickening of heart arteries (coronary artery) and compromises the blood and oxygen supply to the heart resulting in ischemia, heart attack, and heart failure.

Drinking too much wine also increases blood pressure and weakens heart muscles. Due to atherosclerosis, arteries rupture, and increased plaque formation exacerbate the risk of heart issues.

Stomach hurts after drinking wine

Red wine

The alcohol content of wine might trigger stomach pain for several reasons. People with certain health issues are more at risk.

Wine contains alcohol that irritates the mucosal lining of the stomach and stimulates acid production. Increased acid production leads to the production of inflammatory cytokines that causes inflammation of the mucosal lining of the stomach and induce pain.

These are the common causes of abdominal pain after drinking wine:

  • alcoholic gastritis
  • ulcers
  • gas and bloating
  • dehydration

Gastritis & wine

Wine contains acidic agents and increases the acidic environment of the stomach. This causes an inflammatory response in your gut and might trigger a condition called alcoholic gastritis.

Common symptoms of alcoholic gastritis are:

  • stomach pain, which gets worse when eating
  • bloating
  • nausea, vomiting

Ulcers & wine

Alcohol only minimally increases the chance of developing ulcers.

However, if other risk factors are also present – e.g. taking NSAIDs -, alcohol increases the chance of developing peptic ulcers.

Gas, bloating & wine

Alcohol favors the growth of intestinal bacteria and reduces the absorption of food from the gut. Bacteria break food contents in your intestine and produce gas and bloating.

Those who are sensitive to sugar and drink sweet wine might also experience excess gas.

Dehydration & wine

Another possible cause of alcohol-related stomach pain is dehydration.

This study found that beer and wine increase gastric emptying, while drinks with higher alcohol content (15%+) inhibit gastric motility.

The increased gut motility caused by wine might result in dehydration, causing abdominal pain.

Other symptoms after drinking wine:

Besides chest and stomach pain, wine might trigger several other symptoms:

Burning pain in the throat after drinking wine

The following conditions might cause throat pain or sore throat after wine intake:

  • Irritation: According to this study, hypersensitivity reactions after alcohol intake affects ~10% of the population and red wine is a common trigger. Often the sulfites and tannins are the culprits. Those who have rhinitis and asthma are more at risk.
  • Silent reflux: When digestive juices from the stomach can flow all the way up to the throat (this condition is called silent reflux), they can irritate the back of the throat. Phlegm, a sour taste in the mouth, and a lump in the throat are all common symptoms.

Coughing after drinking wine

Coughing is a protective reflex mechanism in the body that throws irritating substances out of the body. It occurs when something irritates the throat or lungs.

Small amounts of wine, especially red wine, might relieve coughing.

However, drinking too much wine may worsen the cough. Coughing after drinking wine might be:

  • Allergic reaction: Alcohol, tannins, and sulfites in wine might trigger allergic reactions.
  • Silent reflux: When stomach contents can flow up to the throat, our bodies try to get rid of them by coughing.

Existing rhinitis and asthma can make coughing more likely.

Lower left abdominal pain & wine

Wine might cause abdominal pain in the lower left part of the abdomen. A common cause of this is diverticulosis.

Diverticular disease is the outpouching of the intestinal mucosa due to weakness in the muscle. It is associated with bloating and constipation that causes left-sided abdominal pain.

Alcohol is a risk factor for diverticulosis, especially in aged people.

Back pain after drinking wine

Alcohol blocks the receptors of the antidiuretic hormone in the kidney. This hormone maintains the fluid levels in your body by absorption of water from the kidney.

Blockage of this hormone results in dehydration leading to frequent urination and might cause kidney pain. This pain can radiate towards the lower back (known as ” referred pain”).

Drinking too much wine may also cause loss of fluids in the vertebral discs. These fluids act as a cushion and prevent pain when the discs are rubbing against each other. However, when the amount of fluid decreases, it can induce pain in the back.

Final thoughts

While small amounts of wine might be beneficial, drinking too much definitely comes with many health risks.

Heavy drinkers and people with existing cardiac problems might experience heart issues after ingesting wine. However, in most cases, symptoms after drinking wine are either caused by acid reflux or sensitivity to an ingredient in the wine (usually the sulfites or tannins).

This article has been written by:

Dr. Shama Nosheen

Department of Medicine and Surgery,
Nishtar Medical University and Hospital