Flush-faced response to alcohol could signal risk for high blood pressure.

It is well known that alcohol is a risk factor for hypertension. It is also known that facial flushing ― if a person’s face turns red after a few drinks, is a typical symptom of high alcohol sensitivity. Given these two specifics, researchers set out to evaluate the role of the facial flushing response in the relationship between alcohol consumption and hypertension. They found that if one’s face turns red after a few drinks, it could be a sign of added risk for alcohol-linked high blood pressure.

For their study, released by the journal Alcoholism: Clinical & Experimental Research, they enrolled 1,763 men of which 288 were nondrinkers, 527 were drinkers whose faces flushed after drinking, and 948 were drinkers who didn’t have the flushed-face reaction. All had received a health checkup. They then collected data from the subjects’ medical records. The risk of hypertension related to weekly drinking amount in non-flushers and flushers was analyzed and compared with that in nondrinkers.

After adjusting for age, body mass index, exercise status, and smoking status, they found that “flushers” were more prone to have drinking-related high blood pressure than non-flushers. Moreover, the risk of high blood pressure was much higher among flushers who had more than four drinks per week. In contrast, the risk of hypertension in non-flushers was increased with alcohol consumption of more than 8 drinks a week.

“Facial flushing after drinking is always considered as a symptom of high alcohol sensitivity or even intolerance to alcohol, unless a patient is taking special medicine,” study author Jong Sung Kim, head of the department of family medicine at Chungnam National University School of Medicine in South Korea, in a journal news release. He explained that “the facial flushing response to drinking usually occurs in a person who cannot genetically break down acetaldehyde, the first metabolite of alcohol.”

The authors said that their findings suggest that hypertension associated with alcohol consumption has a lower threshold value and higher risk in flushers than in non-flushers. In other words, facial flushing after drinking could serve as a signal for a greater risk of alcohol-linked high blood pressure.

Based on their findings, they recommend that doctors consider evaluating patients’ flushing response to alcohol as well as drinking amount, in a daily practice for health promotion.


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