Alcohol May Help Heart Surgery Patients

Men Who Drink Moderately Fare Better After Angioplasty

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 13, 2004 -- A new German study sheds more light on alcohol's effects on the heart's health. Moderate drinkers who undergo balloon angioplasty for blocked heart arteries do better in the short term.

Balloon angioplasty is a procedure that reopens blocked or narrowed arteries. During angioplasty, a catheter is inserted into a blood vessel in the groin and threaded to the heart, where a tiny, inflatable balloon is used to enlarge the narrowed artery. Some patients may experience artery renarrowing in this area within months after angioplasty.

In the study, 225 men had tiny mesh tubes, or stents, implanted during angioplasty to prop their affected arteries open. The stents can cause inflammation in artery walls, prompting the blood vessels to narrow again.

Study researcher Ferayadoon Niroomand, MD, cardiology professor at the Universität Heidelberg in Heidelberg, Germany, and colleagues asked the men how much alcohol they drank.

Most said they drank at least 50 grams of alcohol per week, which is equivalent to at least six glasses of wine. Only 53 reported drinking less than 50 grams of alcohol weekly. Otherwise, the men were quite similar, with an average age of about 63. Before surgery, the men who drank little or no alcohol had higher rates of reduced heart function, plaque buildup in the arteries, diabetes, and lower HDL ("good") cholesterol.

Postsurgical Results

Four months after surgery, the moderate drinkers appeared to fare better than the light drinkers or abstainers.

About 33% of the moderate drinkers had renarrowing of their stented arteries, compared with almost 49% of those who drank little or no alcohol.

Of the moderate drinkers, around 23% needed to have the angioplasty procedure repeated, while 42% of the light drinkers had to have the same procedure redone.

Although alcohol increases HDL cholesterol, the researchers say the difference in HDL cholesterol between the groups was not the reason moderate drinkers did better. They say alcohol has some anti-inflammatory properties that may have stopped some of the inflammation related to the stents.

"The current study does not allow for a general recommendation that abstinent men drink alcohol, even if they have underlying cardiovascular disease," write the researchers in the journal Heart.

"However, it further supports that moderate consumers of alcohol with an increased cardiovascular risk should not be advised to stop drinking."

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SOURCES: F. Niroomand, Heart, October 2004; vol 90: pp 1189-1193. News release, BMJ Specialist Journals.
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