Shocking images show the difference between a healthy organ and that of a heavy drinker.
The pictures come from a study of 141 alcoholic cardiomyopathy (ACM) patients, which found that 13.5 per cent carry a mutation in the gene titin, which is critical to maintaining heart muscle flexibility.
The images reveal the enlarged heart of someone suffering from ACM, which occurs when the structure and shape of the organ changes, affecting its ability to pump blood around the body.
Only one in 100 healthy people in the UK have this same mutation.
Results further found none of the ACM sufferers drank sufficient amounts of alcohol to cause cardiomyopathy on its own.
Study author Dr James Ware, from Imperial College London, said: ‘Our research strongly suggests alcohol and genetics are interacting, and genetic predisposition and alcohol consumption can act together to lead to heart failure.’
Left images show the enlarged heart, from different angles, of an alcoholic-cardiomyopathy sufferer compared to a healthy organ on the right. Cardiomyopathy can cause heart failure
WHAT IS CARDIOMYOPATHY?
Cardiomyopathy is a disease of the heart muscle that affects its size, shape and structure.
The condition is usually inherited.
The three main types of cardiomyopathy are:
- Hypertrophic – heart wall is thickened
- Dilated – heart muscle becomes stretched and thin
- Arrhythmogenic right ventricular – heart muscle cells cannot be kept together
All of these types of cardiomyopathy affect the heart’s ability to pump blood around the body efficiently.
They can also impact the way electrical signals make the organ beat.
There is no cure, however, in most cases people’s quality or length of life is unaffected.
Therapies may include medication, treatment to normalise heart rhythm, pacemakers and, in rare cases, heart surgery or transplants.
Source: British Heart Foundation
‘Alcohol and the heart have a complicated relationship’
Results further suggest carrying the faulty titin gene also increases people’s risk of dilated cardiomyopathy (DCM), even if they do not drink excessively.
DCM occurs when the heart’s tissues become stretched and thin, affecting the organ’s ability to pump blood.
Dr Ware said: ‘At the moment this condition is assumed to be simply due to too much alcohol.
‘But this research suggests these patients should also be checked for a genetic cause – by asking about a family history and considering testing for a faulty titin gene, as well as other genes linked to heart failure.’
He added relatives of ACM patients should undergo heart scans and genetic tests to determine if they carry the faulty gene.
The researchers claim further research is required to determine how alcohol may affect people with the mutation.
Study co-author Dr Paul Barton added: ‘Alcohol and the heart have a complicated relationship.
‘While moderate levels may have benefits for heart health, too much can cause serious cardiac problems.
‘This research suggests that in people with titin-related heart failure, alcohol may worsen the condition.’
Out of a study of 141 alcoholic-cardiomyopathy patients, 13.5 per cent carry a mutation in the gene titin, which is critical to maintaining heart muscle flexibility (stock)
How the research was carried out
The researchers, which also included Royal Brompton Hospital and MRC London Institute of Medical Sciences, analysed 141 patients with ACM.
They investigated whether the participants carried a faulty version of titin.
In a second part of the study, they asked 716 DCM patients how much alcohol they consume.
The research was published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology.