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Alcohol and Heart Surgery

If you are scheduled for heart surgery, it is important to be honest with your health care providers about your alcohol use. Your recovery from heart surgery may not proceed as planned if your health care providers are not aware of your history of alcohol use. Tell your health care provider how many drinks you have per day (or per week).

Excessive alcohol use, defined as drinking more than three drinks per day, can affect the outcome of your heart surgery. Binge drinking (consuming large amounts of alcohol infrequently, such as on weekends) can also affect the outcome of your surgery.

How Does Alcohol Affect My Heart Surgery?

If you drink more than three drinks a day, you could have a complication, called alcohol withdrawal, after heart surgery. Alcohol withdrawal is a set of symptoms that people have when they suddenly stop drinking, after using alcohol for a long period of time. During withdrawal, a person’s central nervous system “overreacts” and causes symptoms such as mild shakiness, sweating, hallucinations and other more serious side effects.

Untreated alcohol withdrawal can cause potentially life-threatening complications after heart surgery, including tremors, seizures, hallucinations, delirium tremens, and even death. Untreated alcohol withdrawal often leads to a longer stay in the intensive care unit (ICU) hospital stay following heart surgery. Chronic heavy drinking also can interfere with several organ systems and biochemical controls in the body, causing serious, even life-threatening complications.

Alcohol Withdrawal Treatment Before Heart Surgery
alcohol heart surgery

By definition, one drink equals 12 ounces of beer or wine cooler, 5 ounces of wine or 1.5 ounces of 80-proof liquor.

Health care providers can offer alcohol withdrawal treatment prior to heart surgery to provide these outcomes:

  • Decreased incidence of post-operative seizures and delirium tremors
  • Decreased use of restraining devices
  • Decreased incidence of patient falls
  • Reduced use of potent sedative medications
  • Decreased length of stay in the hospital following heart surgery
  • Less time on the mechanical ventilator following heart surgery
  • Lower incidence of organ failure and biochemical complications
How Do I Know if I am at Risk for Alcohol Withdrawal After Heart Surgery?

During your pre-surgical visit, you will be asked to answer a series of questions to assess your risk of alcohol withdrawal and other alcohol problems after heart surgery. Please respond to the questions as honestly as possible, because they can influence the success of your heart surgery.

Remember, any information provided is held in strict confidence. We are here to help you prepare and recover from your heart surgery as quickly and safely as possible.

If you have questions or concerns about your alcohol use, please talk to your health care team.

Reviewed: 1/2004


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This information is provided by Cleveland Clinic and is not intended to replace the medical advice of your doctor or health care provider. Please consult your health care provider for advice about a specific medical condition.

© Copyright 2014 Cleveland Clinic. All rights reserved.

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