Updated 22 July 2014

High alcohol consumption increases hypertension risk

Facial flushing after drinking is always considered as a symptom of high alcohol sensitivity or even intolerance to alcohol.

Drinking that results in facial flushing indicates high sensitivity or even intolerance to alcohol. A study of the relationship between drinking and these two conditions has found that drinking-related hypertension has a lower threshold value and higher risk in flushers than in non-flushers.

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"Facial flushing after drinking is always considered as a symptom of high alcohol sensitivity or even intolerance to alcohol, unless a patient is taking special medicine," said Jong Sung Kim, head of the department of family medicine at Chungnam National University School of Medicine.

"The facial flushing response to drinking usually occurs in a person who cannot genetically break down acetaldehyde, the first metabolite of alcohol."

Facial flushing common

"Facial flushing after alcohol drinking differs across gender, age, and ethnic groups," added Kyung Hwan Cho, president of the Korean Academy of Family Medicine. "In general, it is more common in women, the elderly, and East Asians versus Westerners."

Cho noted that it is well known that excessive alcohol consumption is associated with elevated blood pressure and the likely development of hypertension. "This association persists regardless of beverage type and shows a dose-response relationship, which means excess drinking for weeks or months can increase blood pressure," he said.

"However, the relationship may vary by gender, race/ethnicity, or presence of other risk factors for cardiovascular disease. Conversely, many studies have reported that meaningful blood pressure reductions occur after reductions in alcohol drinking."

"To my knowledge," noted Kim, "there has been no detailed research that has analyzed the relationship between drinking and hypertension while considering individual responses to alcohol."

Read:  Hypertension in the elderly

Data collected

Kim and his colleagues collected data from the medical records of 1,763 men (288 non-drinkers, 527 flushing drinkers, 948 non-flushing drinkers) who had received a health check-up. The risk of hypertension related to the weekly drinking amount by non-flushers and flushers was analyzed and compared with the risk of hypertension among non-drinkers.

"Our results indicate that hypertension associated with drinking has a lower threshold value and higher risk in flushers than in non-flushers," said Kim. "After adjusting for age, body mass index, exercise status, and smoking status, the risk of hypertension was significantly increased when flushers consumed more than four drinks per week. In contrast, in non-flushers, the risk increased with consuming more than eight drinks per week".

Kim added that these results indicate that facial flushing after drinking may potentially serve as a marker of risk for hypertension associated with drinking. "Our research findings suggest that clinicians and researchers should, respectively, consider evaluating their patients' flushing response to alcohol as well as drinking amount in a daily routine care, and researching hazard by drinking."

"Thus, if you or your patient have facial flushing, the risk of hypertension can increase even if you drink less than those who do not have facial flushing," said Cho. "[Under these circumstances, I would] recommend limiting your or their drinking amount even more to prevent the development of hypertension."

Read more:

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New way to tackle high blood pressure


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Dr Jacomien de Villiers qualified as a specialist physician at the University of Pretoria in 1995. She worked at various clinics at the Department of Internal Medicine, Steve Biko Hospital, these include General Internal Medicine, Hypertension, Diabetes and Cardiology. She has run a private practice since 2001, as well as a consultant post at the Endocrine Clinic of Steve Biko Hospital.

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