Stroke warning: Drink shown more than doubles stroke risk in 1 hour

Stroke warning: Drink shown more than doubles stroke risk in 1 hour

A stroke is a serious, life-threatening medical condition that occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is cut off. Poor lifestyle decisions can trigger a stroke, and a study published in Stroke: Journal of the American Heart Association shows how quickly these negative effects can occur.

The risk of stroke appears to double within an hour of consuming just one drink, be it wine, beer or spirits.

“The impact of alcohol on your risk of ischemic stroke appears to depend on how much and how often you drink,” said Murray A. Mittleman, MD, Dr.PH, lead author of the Inception Study of stroke (SOS) and director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center at Harvard Medical School in Boston, Massachusetts.

Before SOS, researchers didn’t know whether alcohol consumption had an immediate impact on ischemic stroke (caused by a blood clot in a vessel or leading to the brain), although modest alcohol consumption ( less than two drinks a day) could potentially lower long-term risk.

The researchers interviewed 390 ischemic stroke patients (209 men, 181 women) about three days after the stroke about many aspects of their lives.

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The patterns remained the same whether the participants had consumed wine, beer or distilled spirits. When the researchers removed patients who had been exposed to other potential triggers (such as vigorous exercise or drinking a caffeinated beverage) just before their strokes, the alcohol connection did not change.

Only one participant had consumed more than two drinks in the hour before stroke, and removing these data did not alter the pattern.

“The evidence for excessive alcohol consumption is consistent: both long-term and short-term increases the risk of stroke,” Mittleman said.

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“But we’re finding that it’s more complicated with light to moderate drinking. It’s possible that the transient increase in stroke risk from moderate drinking is offset by the long-term health benefits.”

Right after drinking, blood pressure rises and blood platelets become stickier, which can increase the chance of a clot forming.

However, consistent use of small amounts of alcohol is associated with beneficial changes in blood lipids and more flexible blood vessels, which may reduce overall risk.

“At this point we don’t have enough evidence to say that people who don’t drink should start, or that people who drink small amounts, on the order of one drink a day, should stop,” Mittleman said.

A more conclusive answer would require a controlled study in which some people are randomly selected to drink alcohol while others are not, he said.

It is important to note that the findings may not apply to patients with severe stroke.

Unalterable risk factors

It is not possible to completely prevent strokes because some things that increase the risk of the disease cannot be changed.

According to the NHS, these include:

  • Age: You’re more likely to have a stroke if you’re over 55, although about one in four strokes happen in younger people
  • Family history: If a close relative (parent, grandparent, brother or sister) has had a stroke, your risk is likely to be higher.
  • Ethnicity: If you are Asian, African, or Caribbean, your risk of stroke is higher, in part because rates of diabetes and high blood pressure are higher in these groups.
  • Your medical history: If you’ve had a stroke, transient ischemic attack (TIA), or heart attack before, your risk of stroke is higher.


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