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Your Beverage of Choice

Could it be raising your risk for stroke?

There's nothing like dinner at a good restaurant. We choose from the menu, enjoy wine or cocktails with dinner, and finish with a cup of coffee. But for those with heart disease, this scenario may increase your risk for stroke.

Results from Two Reseach Studies Cup of coffee and a glass of wine

Two studies recently published by a researcher from the CardioVascular Institute (CVI) at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center (BIDMC) have yielded new findings about the possibility that alcohol and coffee are triggers for ischemic stroke. Triggers are factors that can temporarily elevate the risk of a disease. Ischemic stroke, the most common type, occurs when a blood clot develops and disrupts the proper flow of blood to the brain.

The alcohol study interviewed 390 ischemic stroke patients (209 men, 181 women) in the span of five years and compared alcohol consumption frequency during the previous year to the amount of alcohol consumed in the hour before they experienced a stroke. Based on information from their findings, doctors concluded that the risk of stroke doubled in the hour following alcohol consumption, regardless of alcohol type or amount. At the same time, other studies have shown that light to moderate drinking can actually be good for your heart.

Dr. Murray Mittleman"We're finding that the affects of light-to-moderate drinking are more complex than we previously thought," said Dr. Murray A. Mittleman, Harvard Medical Faculty Physician at BIDMC and researcher for both studies. "The impact of alcohol on your risk of ischemic stroke appears to depend on how much and how often you drink. It is possible that the transiently increased stroke risk from moderate alcohol consumption may be outweighed by the longer term health benefits."

The study investigating the connection between stroke and coffee involved 390 ischemic stroke patients. Of those interviewed, 78% consumed coffee during the year preceding their stroke, 59% during the preceding 24 hours, and 9% in the hour before the stroke. Once again, the researchers found that in the hour after consumption, the stroke risk doubled-though it returned to normal by the second hour.

The results are somewhat surprising, given that long-term coffee consumption has been associated with lower stroke risk in women who don't smoke, according to researchers from Spain and Harvard Medical School who analyzed the impact of coffee consumption on stroke risk over a 24-year time period.

"Conflicting studies present a paradox for health-conscious individuals, but we need further evidence to properly advise people about coffee intake, especially when other risk factors for stroke are present," said Mittleman.

So what can we take away from these studies? If you fit any of the stroke risk factors, one way to avoid putting your body at unnecessary risk is to abstain from alcohol and cut back on caffeine intake. Dr. Mittleman cautions against getting too overzealous about the studies' findings, however. "At this point we don't have enough evidence to say that people who don't drink should start or that people who drink small amounts - on the order of one drink a day - should stop."

Studies have also suggested that having an infection such as the flu may be a stroke trigger. Other possible triggers, such as experiencing negative emotions and intense physical exertion, are less well validated. One Canadian study even suggested that strokes can be triggered by one's birthday!

If you must have your nightly glass of merlot or your morning cup of java, sip away, but do so in moderation. Keep in mind that drinking more than two alcoholic drinks (for men) or one drink (for women) per day increases the chance of developing health problems and may negate any potential health benefits.

Are you at risk for a stroke?

It's difficult to say for certain what causes a stroke, but there are a number of contributors that could put you at greater risk. They are:

Warning Signs for Stroke

If you notice one or more of the following signs-do not wait to call 911. This could be a medical emergency.

  • Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
  • Sudden confusion, trouble speaking and/or understanding
  • Sudden trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Sudden trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
  • Sudden, severe headache with no known cause

Above content provided by Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center. For advice about your medical care, consult your doctor.

Posted February 2011

Contact Information

CardioVascular Institute at
Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center
330 Brookline Avenue
Boston, MA 02215