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Alcoholic Cardiomyopathy*: Incidence, Clinical Characteristics, and Pathophysiology

Mariann R. Piano, PhD
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*From the University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing, Chicago, IL.

Correspondence to: Mariann R. Piano, PhD, Associate Professor, University of Illinois at Chicago College of Nursing (MC 802), 845 S. Damen, Chicago, IL 60612; e-mail: Piano@uic.edu



Chest. 2002;121(5):1638-1650. doi:10.1378/chest.121.5.1638
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In the United States, in both sexes and all races, long-term heavy alcohol consumption (of any beverage type) is the leading cause of a nonischemic, dilated cardiomyopathy, herein referred to as alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM). ACM is a specific heart muscle disease of a known cause that occurs in two stages: an asymptomatic stage and a symptomatic stage. In general, alcoholic patients consuming > 90 g of alcohol a day (approximately seven to eight standard drinks per day) for > 5 years are at risk for the development of asymptomatic ACM. Those who continue to drink may become symptomatic and develop signs and symptoms of heart failure. ACM is characterized by an increase in myocardial mass, dilation of the ventricles, and wall thinning. Changes in ventricular function may depend on the stage, in that asymptomatic ACM is associated with diastolic dysfunction, whereas systolic dysfunction is a common finding in symptomatic ACM patients. The pathophysiology of ACM is complex and may involve cell death (possibly due to apoptosis) and changes in many aspects of myocyte function. ACM remains an important cause of a dilated cardiomyopathy, and in latter stages can lead to heart failure. Alcohol abstinence, as well as the use of specific heart failure pharmacotherapies, is critical in improving ventricular function and outcomes in these patients.

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