Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a disorder in which drinking too much alcohol over a long period of time weakens the heart muscle so that it cannot pump blood efficiently.


Drinking alcohol in large quantities has a toxic effect on the heart. Alcoholic cardiomyopathy is a form of a condition in which the heart becomes enlarged and the heart muscle thins (dilated cardiomyopathy) due to alcohol abuse.

Alcoholic cardiomyopathy causes the weakened heart muscle to pump inefficiently, leading to heart failure. In severe cases, the lack of blood flow affects all parts of the body, damaging many tissues and organs.

The disorder is most commonly seen in men ages 35-55. However, it may develop in anyone who drinks too much alcohol over a long period of time.


There are usually no symptoms until the disease is in an advanced stage. At that point, the symptoms occur due to heart failure and may include:

  • Ankle, feet, and leg swelling
  • Awakening during the night with shortness of breath (paroxysmal nocturnal dyspnea)
  • Breathing difficulty while lying down (orthopnea)
  • Cough containing mucus, or pink, frothy material
  • Decreased alertness or concentration
  • Decreased urine output (oliguria)
  • Fatigue, weakness, faintness
  • Irregular or rapid pulse
  • Loss of appetite
  • Need to urinate at night (nocturia)
  • Overall swelling
  • Sensation of feeling the heart beat (palpitations)
  • Shortness of breath, especially with activity (dyspnea)


You may be placed on a low-salt diet. The amount of liquids you drink may be restricted. It is very important that you stop drinking alcohol completely.

Heart failure may be treated with:

  • ACE inhibitors
  • Beta blockers
  • Diuretics (furosemide and spironolactone)

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