Especially during the holiday season, many people experience concerning heart palpitations in conjunction with wine consumption. When evaluating heart palpitations that you suspect may be caused by wine, it's important to understand and weigh three factors: what a palpitation is, when cardiac arrhythmia is dangerous, and when the heart-healthy benefits of wine consumption may outweigh temporary, benign palpitations.
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Palpitations are recognized by some common features: you will feel an irregularity of the heartbeat, an "uneasy" feeling in the chest, or a "flip-flopping" sensation. Sometimes it feels as though the heart pauses for a moment before continuing. It is not uncommon for the palpitations to be associated with lightheadedness, and some people even lose consciousness.
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What Causes Palpitations
What we perceive as palpitations are generally premature cardiac contractions. We feel the difference in blood volume from beat to beat. What happens is essentially this: the heart beats once and then follows that beat prematurely, giving the heart a split second longer to fill with blood before beat number three. When the heart beats for that third time, the "extra" blood makes the heart contract harder.
Wine and Palpitations
Wine is, of course, alcohol. Alcohol affects the heart in many ways. Though it's certainly not the only substance that causes heart palpitations in some people (such as caffeine-containing beverages, chocolate, allergy medicine, cold medicine), it's a common cause of the palpitations that bring worried patients to the emergency room.
More Serious Effects
Wine can cause a more serious phenomenon in the heart than simple palpitations, so it's important to report any feelings of cardiac arrhythmia to your doctor and be honest about alcohol consumption. When you drink a greater volume of alcohol than normal, you can precipitate a condition called atrial fibrillation. Many times, the condition rights itself naturally when you return to your normal level of alcohol consumption. If it doesn't self-correct, atrial fibrillation can cause dangerous, stroke-causing clots to form.
Wine Heart Benefits
Wine is definitely not all bad news for the heart. Research suggests that moderate red wine consumption has a range of heart-healthy benefits. The antioxidants found in red wine (such as polyphenols, arthrocyanidins and resveratrol) can help to boost HDL ("good cholesterol") while preventing LDL ("bad cholesterol") from forming. Wine seems to have an anticoagulant effect, preventing the formation of blood clots (when consumed moderately).