Alcohol and heart disease
Drinking too much alcohol is one of the most common causes
of hospital admission in the UK.
And drinking more than the
recommended limits can have a harmful effect on the heart.
It can cause abnormal
heart rhythms, high blood
pressure, damage to the heart muscle and other
diseases such as stroke, liver problems and some
Alcohol is also high in calories so it can lead to weight
gain. It also lowers inhibitions which might mean you
find it harder to stick to your healthy eating plans when you have
been drinking. If you are trying to lose weight, cut down on alcohol.
How much can I drink?
If you drink alcohol, it is important to keep within the
- Men should not regularly drink more than
3 - 4 units of alcohol a day.
- Women should not regularly drink more
than 2 - 3 units of alcohol a day.
These guidelines apply whether you drink every day, once a week
Most people don’t drink alcohol every day -
but if you do, try having some days off – aim for at least two
alcohol free days a week. Just make sure you don’t increase the
amount you drink on the other days.
Drinking large amounts of alcohol in one go can cause
additional damage to your body, so avoid heavy or ‘binge’ drinking
– you can’t save up your units! If you drink too
much, avoid alcohol for 48 hours to allow your body time to
How much is one unit of alcohol?
A unit is a measure of alcohol. The number of units is
based on the size of the drink and its alcohol strength. The
ABV (alcohol by volume) figure is the percentage of alcohol in the
- One small glass (100mls) of wine (10% ABV) - be aware that many
wines have a higher alcohol content than this and the
size of glasses may be bigger. For example, a standard 175ml
glass of wine (13% ABV) would be 2.3 units.
- Half a pint (about 300mls) of normal strength lager, cider or
For example 3.5% ABV - be aware that many beers and ciders have a
higher volume than this.
- A single pub measure (25mls) of spirits (40% ABV).
- A glass (50 ml) of liqueur, sherry or other fortified wine (20%
Free tools to help you
Use our Alcohol Calculator
to figure out how many units you drink. You can also sign up to our
free service Heart Matters for more information on
alcohol and other ways to keep your heart healthy.
Is it true alcohol can be good for the heart?
There may be some benefits to your heart
health from moderate drinking (1 or 2 units a day). However,
we would not advise you to start drinking if you
don't already. There are safer and healthier ways to protect your
heart. It is more important to start taking more physical activity, eat a healthy, balanced diet and to stop smoking.
Heart conditions and alcohol
I have recently been in hospital, when can I drink alcohol
If you’ve recently been unwell or in hospital with a
heart condition, or have undergone
heart surgery, you should ask
your doctor for advice on when you can resume
If you are taking sleeping tablets or
painkillers, remember that alcohol will have a more powerful
Everyone should avoid drinking too much
alcohol but this is particularly important if you are taking
anticoagulant medication like warfarin.
Too much alcohol can interfere with the blood
clotting process, so if you do drink alcohol it is better to have
just a small amount regularly. Your anticoagulant clinic will be
able to advise you on this.
I have a heart condition, is it safe for me to drink?
Once you have recovered, it's OK for most
people with a heart condition to drink a moderate amount of
However if you have been diagnosed with
certain conditions, such as some types of cardiomyopathy,
it may be advisable to avoid drinking alcohol
altogether. Check with your doctor for advice on whether it is
safe for you to drink alcohol and how much.
If you are taking medication, check with your
doctor or pharmacist about how much alcohol you can drink.