As with any substance use disorder, alcohol abuse comes with serious detriments to your overall health. An alcohol addiction can affect your ability to think, move normally, and fight off disease. It can also increase your risk of cancer, pancreatitis, and liver and heart diseases.
What is Alcoholic Myopathy?
Alcoholic myopathy increases muscle weakness, decreases muscle strength, and makes changes to the muscle structure. About half of all alcoholics will develop some form of myopathy as a result of their drinking habits. While this is an alarming possibility for any alcoholic, there are ways to recognize and treat the disease.
How to tell if you have alcoholic myopathy
Symptoms of alcoholic myopathy include:
- Numbness or pain in your arms and legs.
- Experiencing a “pins and needles” feeling.
- Weakness, cramps, aches, contractions, or spasms in the muscles.
- Having trouble tolerating heat.
- Difficulty urinating (having trouble starting, feeling as if your bladder isn’t completely empty, incontinence, etc.).
- Constipation and/or diarrhea.
- Trouble swallowing.
- Nausea and/or vomiting.
- Men may also develop impotence.
Symptoms tend to affect both sides of the body equally and are more prevalent in the legs. Usually, they appear gradually and get worse over time, but case studies have shown a sudden onset of symptoms after heavy binge drinking.
Myopathy and the heart
Alcohol abuse can also cause damage the heart. People who struggle with alcoholism are prone to weakened hearts, or cardiomyopathy. When cardiomyopathy occurs, the heart sags and stretches, making it difficult to pump blood throughout the body. If left unchecked, this leads to organ and tissue damage, and, in severe cases, even heart failure.
You might be an suffering from cardiomyopathy if you experience:
- Difficulty breathing.
- Unusual fatigue.
- Swelling in the legs and feet.
- Arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat).
Please seek treatment immediately if you experience any of symptoms of alcoholic myopathy, heart-related or otherwise.
How does alcoholism cause myopathy?
Both alcohol and acetaldehyde — the byproduct of your liver breaking down the alcohol — work against your body’s ability to make new muscle proteins. This can result in up to 30% of lost muscle mass.
Many people with alcoholic myopathy tend to lack normal levels of Vitamin E; alcohol attacks carotenoids (Vitamin E producers) in the liver, resulting in this deficiency. The problem here is that studies have proven that damaged muscle cells recover better when they’re exposed to Vitamin E. Since alcoholics don’t get enough of this necessary antioxidant, their muscles suffer.
Alcoholism and poor nutrition often go hand-in-hand. In the case of extremely heavy drinkers, alcohol replaces food in their diet, but a side-effect of any alcohol use is that the body is unable to absorb the nutrients it needs from food. Without enough Vitamin B, for example, nerve cells get destroyed, resulting in the tingling sensation of neuropathy.
How can alcoholic myopathy be treated?
The first step is to get sober to prevent further damage. The initial detoxification period takes about a month, and it can be done in an inpatient or outpatient setting, with the help of a group like Alcoholics Anonymous or on your own. But sobriety is the first and most important goal.
Other interventions are important to consider:
- Ensure you’re eating a balanced diet, especially foods rich in Vitamin E (sunflower seeds, almonds, cooked spinach, canned pumpkin, etc.) and Vitamin B (beans, poultry, fish, soy, etc.).
- Consult your doctor about supplementing your diet with magnesium, calcium, and/or carnitine to improve muscle health.
- Consider physical therapy or splinting to help with muscle recovery.
While alcoholic myopathy is a dangerous and prevalent side-effect of alcoholism, it’s important to remember that the symptoms are recognizable, and the condition itself is treatable.
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