Drinking alcohol can sometimes be a touchy issue between patients and doctors. But when it comes to deep vein thrombosis (DVT), often found in the deep veins of the leg, alcohol is a topic you should discuss with your doctor.
Research shows that alcohol itself, in low to moderate amounts, isn’t likely to raise your DVT risk. It may even protect healthy adults from DVT.
Doctors have several ways to treat a deep vein thrombosis (DVT). The most common treatment is a drug called a blood thinner. Blood thinners are also called anticoagulants.
These drugs stop the clot from getting bigger. They also help prevent it from breaking off and moving to the lungs. And they prevent other clots from forming.
Blood thinners don’t break down the clot itself. The body does that over time.
One study showed that alcohol is a blood thinner in older patients. "It causes blood not to clot," says researcher Marco Pahor, MD, director of the Institute on Aging at the University of Florida in Gainesville.
Ida Hansen-Krone, PhD, of the University Hospital of Tromso in Norway, says she's found studies that show the more you drink, the lower your blood clot risk.
But Peter Lawrence, MD, chief of vascular surgery at UCLA Medical Center, adds that moderation is key. “I wouldn’t advocate drinking alcohol to protect against DVT. But if you look at people who drink various amounts of alcohol, you appear to have a lower risk of getting DVT if you drink modest amounts -- one to two drinks a day,” he says.
What You Drink and How Much
The relationship between alcohol and DVT also may depend what -- and how much -- you pour in your glass.
Beer and wine: A 2013 study of almost 60,000 people found no difference in the risk of blood clots between wine or beer drinkers.
Liquor: Another study found that compared to nondrinkers, people who drank more than 3 oz.of liquor had a 53% higher risk of DVT.
Why? The issue with liquor might be a question of drinking habits. Hansen-Krone says that people who reported drinking a lot of liquor also tended to binge drink, which counteracts helpful effects you might get from drinking alcohol in moderation.
Alcohol and Blood Thinners
If you're prescribed a blood thinner, you want to be careful with alcohol, in part because you might get tipsy and lose your balance.
Some blood thinners are broken down by the liver, the same organ that processes alcohol. If your liver's busy working on breaking down the alcohol, the level of a blood thinner medication in your blood rises, increasing your bleeding risk.
“You don’t want people getting to a point where they fall and hurt themselves. On a blood thinner that could be catastrophic if you hit your head for example,” says Suman Rathbun, MD. She's the director of vascular medicine at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center.
Drinking more every once in a while is probably fine when you're on blood thinners -- just be sure to talk to your doctor, Rathbun says. If you're a regular drinker, your medication levels may need to be checked more often.