By Dr Willie Ong (Internist and Cardiologist)
In light of the Christine Dacera case, a lot of people are asking whether alcohol drinking can cause an aortic aneurysm. Based on medical literature, there is some limited evidence to suggest that heavy and constant alcohol drinking can lead to an increase in the incidence of abdominal aortic aneurysm (See Reference below).
However, for this to occur, the person has to be a chronic drinker for several years. Hence, for Christine Dacera’s case, I doubt if occasional drinking can lead to a ruptured aortic aneurysm, as stated in the autopsy.
Health Dangers of Heavy Alcohol Drinking
Who is an alcoholic? Alcoholism is a condition wherein one’s body becomes dependent on alcohol. Although the person may deny it, an alcoholic is someone who cannot control how much he drinks and when he drinks.
Symptoms of alcoholism include having a strong urge to drink, needing increasing amounts of alcohol to get drunk, and not remembering what you did or said when drunk. In more serious cases, the person may experience withdrawal symptoms, like nausea, trembling and sweating, when he or she stops drinking. And when the person starts to keep alcohol drinks in unlikely places like the car, office or bedroom, then he will need medical help.
Organs Involved in Heavy Drinking:
- Liver disease – The liver is responsible for metabolizing (or degrading) ingested alcohol and then excreting it through the urine, sweat and feces. However, if one drinks too much, then the liver cannot cope up. The excess alcohol may cause damage to the brain, heart and liver. Initially, alcohol can cause liver inflammation (alcoholic hepatitis). Later on, this may lead to scarring of the liver (liver cirrhosis), which is difficult to cure.
- Heart complications – There is a medical condition that occurs after a heavy night of drinking. The person will wake up with abnormal heart beating and a possible heart attack. This is called Holiday Heart Syndrome. In addition, heart patients should limit their alcohol intake because this may interfere with the potency of maintenance medicines.
- Damaging brain cells – Laboratory tests show that the brain of an alcoholic is smaller compared to a normal brain. A drunk person develops neurological symptoms such as slurring of speech, forgetfulness, numbness, confusion and inability to walk in a straight line. And if a person keeps on getting drunk, then this could lead to early senility called alcoholic dementia.
- Greater cancer risk – Studies show that prolonged intake of excessive alcohol may lead to cancers of the mouth, throat, breast, liver and colon.
- Gastrointestinal diseases – Because ingested alcohol passes through the stomach and intestines, then this can cause inflammation of the stomach (gastritis) and pancreas (pancreatitis).
- Birth defects – Drinking during pregnancy may cause fetal alcohol syndrome. This a condition characterized by physical and developmental problems in the child.
Other possible harmful effects of alcohol are sexual dysfunction in men, diabetes complications (low blood sugar), obesity, bone loss (osteoporosis) and eye problems. Non-health dangers of alcohol are road accidents, violence and crime.
Recommended Limits of Alcohol Intake:
People have different tolerance to alcohol. This depends on: (1) whether the person is a man or a woman, (2) the body weight of the person, (3) if food was consumed while drinking, and (4) how fast the alcoholic drink was consumed.
On the average, a man is limited to drinking only two bottles of beer, two small glasses of wine, or two shots (1.5 ounces) of hard drinks per day. For the woman, the amount recommended is only half of the man. This means she can only drink one bottle of beer, 1 small glass of wine, or 1 shot of hard drink per day.
However, I would like to caution the readers that doctors are not encouraging non-drinkers to start drinking alcohol. If you don’t drink, don’t start. This is because even social drinking may lead to heavy drinking in the future.
When To See A Doctor:
If you have symptoms of alcoholism, then you may need to see a doctor. Many alcoholics will deny that they have a problem. That is why family support is necessary.
And once a person’s work and family life are affected, then he or she should see a doctor. There are medical treatment and counseling services available to the patient. Seek help early and be well.