Research News

Heavy drinking in middle age increases stroke risk, study of twins shows

BMJ 2015; 350 doi: (Published 30 January 2015) Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h528
  1. Susan Mayor
  1. 1London

Drinking more than two alcoholic drinks each day in middle age is associated with a greater increase in stroke risk than traditional risk factors such as high blood pressure and diabetes, warns a study published in the latest edition of Stroke that followed up twins for more than 40 years.1

Researchers followed up all 11 644 same sex twins listed in the Swedish Twin Registry who were born from 1886 to 1925 and who had responded to a questionnaire on alcohol consumption in 1960-61. All participants were aged 60 or under at baseline, to enable assessment of the effect of alcohol consumption in middle age.

Results showed that 29% (3328) of the study participants had a stroke during the 43 year follow-up period (median 30 years).

Heavy drinkers, defined in the study as people who drink more than two alcoholic drinks a day, had a 34% higher risk of stroke in middle age than very light drinkers who drank less than 0.5 drinks daily (hazard ratio 1.34; P=0.02). The study found slightly less difference in stroke risk between heavy drinkers and non-drinkers (1.11; P=0.08).

Heavy drinking shortened the time to stroke by five years in analyses of pairs of monozygotic twins that compared the heavy drinking twin with the twin who did not drink (P=0.04).

“For middle aged adults, avoiding drinking more than two drinks a day could be a way to prevent stroke in later productive life,” said the lead author, Pavla Kadlecová, of the International Clinical Research Center at St Anne’s Hospital in Brno, Czech Republic.

People who drank heavily in midlife were at high risk of stroke until age 75, when hypertension and diabetes took over as more important influences on stroke risk, the researchers found.

Previous studies have shown that alcohol consumption influences stroke risk, but this is the first study to have shown how the effect changes with age in relation to other stroke risk factors. “We now have a clearer picture about these risk factors, how they change with age and how the influence of drinking alcohol shifts as we get older,” concluded Kadlecová.


Cite this as: BMJ 2015;350:h528


View Abstract

Sign in

Log in through your institution

Free trial

Register for a free trial to to receive unlimited access to all content on for 14 days.
Sign up for a free trial