Do you sometimes experience chest pain after having a drink or two? While chest pain is not a common symptom of alcohol use, it can be a cause for concern—especially if it happens frequently or severely. Here are some reasons why your chest might hurt after drinking alcohol, and what you can do about it.
Before we continue, we should note that if your chest pain is severe it’s best to seek immediate medical attention. And if the problem happens often, you should consult with your physician to determine the underlying cause.
Why Does My Chest Hurt After Drinking Alcohol?
Chest pain after drinking alcohol can be caused by a variety of factors. Here are some of the most common:
Gastroesophageal Reflux Disease (GERD) is one potential culprit of chest pain after drinking alcohol.1 Alcohol can relax the lower esophageal sphincter—the muscle that keeps stomach acid from flowing back up into the esophagus. This can lead to heartburn and chest pain, especially after drinking large amounts of alcohol or drinking on an empty stomach.
Drinking alcohol in excess impacts your blood pressure and can cause arrhythmia and angina. Long-term, heavy drinking can also lead to the development of heart disease, including cardiomyopathy, stroke, and heart failure.2 Chest pain after drinking could therefore be a sign of an underlying heart condition.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Drinking alcohol can also trigger anxiety and panic attacks in some people. These can cause chest pain, along with other symptoms like shortness of breath, rapid heartbeat, and sweating.
Next, we’ll explore each of these causes in more detail and provide tips for finding relief from chest pain after drinking alcohol.
Acid Reflux and Chest Pain
Acid reflux, a symptom of gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), occurs when stomach acid flows back into the esophagus, causing irritation and discomfort.3 It’s a common condition that can be exacerbated by alcohol consumption. When you drink alcohol, it can weaken the lower esophageal sphincter, which allows stomach acid to flow back up into the esophagus.
If you experience chest pain after drinking alcohol, it’s possible that you’re experiencing acid reflux. Other symptoms of GERD can include heartburn, regurgitation, and a sour or bitter taste in the mouth.
To reduce the likelihood of experiencing acid reflux after drinking alcohol, your best bet is to limit your alcohol consumption, especially if you’re already prone to these issues. It’s also a good idea to avoid drinking on an empty stomach, avoid spicy or greasy foods, and wait a few hours after eating before drinking.
If you do experience acid reflux after drinking, over-the-counter antacids or acid reducers may provide relief. However, if you experience chronic or severe acid reflux, it’s important to talk to your doctor about treatment options.
Schedule a private call with a Ria Health team member and we can help you get started.
Heart Problems and Chest Pain After Drinking
Another reason you may experience chest pain when you drink is due to heart problems. Excessive drinking can impact your blood pressure and cause irregular heartbeats. And although we often hear about the heart-healthy benefits of beverages like red wine, heavy drinking is known to cause serious heart diseases, and even heart failure.
One specific cause of chest pain when drinking is angina, which results from reduced blood flow to the heart.4 This can be a warning sign of other conditions and should be taken seriously. Alcohol can also lead to an arrhythmia (irregular heart rhythm), which can also cause chest pain.5
Chronic, heavy drinking can also lead to high blood pressure, which in turn can reduce the elasticity of your arteries, affecting blood and oxygen flow to the heart. Then, there are the connections between excessive alcohol use and conditions like cardiomyopathy and coronary heart disease.6
Finally, drinking too much alcohol can increase your risk of stroke and heart attack. It’s important to be aware of the common symptoms of a heart attack—including tightness and pain in the chest, shortness of breath, lightheadedness, nausea, and fatigue.7 While these can also be the symptoms of other problems (such as a panic attack), you should take these warning signs seriously and seek medical attention.
Anxiety and Panic Attacks
Another possible explanation for chest pain after drinking is anxiety or a panic attack. These mental health conditions can cause physical symptoms, such as chest tightness, shortness of breath, and a rapid heartbeat.8 Drinking alcohol can also increase the likelihood of experiencing these symptoms, as it can worsen anxiety and trigger panic attacks in some people.
Anxiety is especially common as alcohol leaves the system, and is a common symptom of hangovers (hence the term, “hangxiety”). This is because alcohol represses some of the brain chemicals that cause anxiety, leading to a type of “boomerang” effect as it wears off.
If you have a history of anxiety or panic attacks and notice chest pain after drinking, it may be worth discussing with your healthcare provider. They can help determine if anxiety or panic attacks may be contributing to your symptoms, and recommend appropriate treatment options.
How To Manage or Avoid Chest Pain After Drinking Alcohol
If you’re experiencing chest pain after drinking alcohol, it’s important to take steps to manage your symptoms and seek medical attention if necessary. Here are some tips that may help:
- Drink in moderation: The most effective way to prevent chest pain caused by drinking alcohol is to avoid excessive drinking. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism defines moderate drinking as up to one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men.9
- Stay hydrated: Drinking alcohol can cause dehydration, which may contribute to chest pain. To stay hydrated, drink water or other nonalcoholic beverages between drinks, and make sure to drink plenty of water before bed.
- Avoid triggering foods: Certain foods can trigger acid reflux or heartburn, which may worsen chest pain. These may include spicy or greasy foods, caffeine, and alcohol itself.
- Seek medical attention: If your chest pain is severe, persistent, or accompanied by other symptoms such as shortness of breath, dizziness, or nausea, seek medical attention immediately. These could be signs of a more serious condition, such as a heart attack.
The Takeaway on Chest Pain After Drinking
Chest pain after drinking alcohol can be a concerning symptom, but there are many potential explanations and strategies for finding relief.
By understanding the possible reasons why your chest might hurt after drinking, and taking steps to address those underlying causes, you can help alleviate your symptoms and reduce your risk of developing more serious health issues. And if you’re ever unsure about the cause of your chest pain, or if you experience severe or persistent symptoms, be sure to seek medical attention right away.
If drinking alcohol is causing physical symptoms that concern you, but you find it hard to cut back, there are also new solutions to the problem. While attending AA or rehab and identifying as an alcoholic used to be the main options for changing your drinking, things are changing. With the help of medication, moderation is now possible for some people. And with the rise of telehealth, you can now get support without putting your life on hold.
Get in touch with our team today to learn how we can support you in making a healthy change.