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One Drink of Alcohol Temporarily Doubles Stroke Risk

Kathleen Blanchard's picture

Findings from researchers show that one drink of alcohol can temporarily double the chances of having a stroke. The risk of stroke occurs within one hour after having just one alcoholic beverarge, whether beer, wine or hard liquor.

The findings come from a small study of 390 patient interviews who suffered ischemic stroke from a blood clot in the brain. Of the 390 patients questioned, 14 had consumed alcohol within one hour of having a stroke.

Even when researchers took other factors into account the chances of stroke linked to having just one drink of alcohol remained the same.

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Murray A. Mittleman, M.D., Dr.P.H., senior author of the Stroke Onset Study (SOS) and director of the Cardiovascular Epidemiology Research Unit at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in the Harvard Medical School in Boston, Mass. says, "The impact of alcohol on your risk of ischemic stroke appears to depend on how much and how often you drink". The findings don't mean it's unsafe to have one drink of alcohol - it means the risk of stroke risk from consuming alcohol may be complex.

Dr. Mittleman explains, "The evidence on heavy drinking is consistent: Both in the long and short term it raises stroke risk. But we're finding it's more complicated with light to moderate drinking. It is possible that the transiently increased stroke risk from moderate alcohol consumption may be outweighed by the longer term health benefits."

Even though the study shows the chances of having a stroke was 2.3 times higher in the first hour after consuming one drink of alcohol, the researchers aren't suggesting people stop. Consistent alcohol consumption is shown to make blood vessels more flexible, reducing the risk of heart disease and stroke.

The scientists explain blood pressure becomes temporarily higher and blood is more prone to clot within one hour after consuming alcohol. But drinking alcohol regularly might also reduce the chances of having a stroke. For now there isn't enough evidence to make any recommendations. The findings show that having just one drink seems to raise the risk of stroke within one hour after alcohol consumption.

Stroke: doi: 10.1161/STROKEAHA.110.580092