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Holiday Hangovers

Medical Author: Melissa Conrad Stöppler, MD
Medical Editor: William C. Shiel, Jr, MD, FACP, FACR

Greasy food, tomato juice, raw eggs...Myths abound concerning possible cures for the hangover. Are any of them effective? To determine how to treat a hangover, it's important to understand a bit about why a hangover develops.

The most common symptoms of a hangover are

  • headache,
  • lethargy,
  • nausea,
  • diarrhea,
  • sensitivity to light and noise.

The exact cause of hangover has not been determined, but dehydration, hormonal changes, and inflammatory effects caused by the breakdown products of alcohol are likely responsible for the symptoms. Since alcohol alters levels of certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, a disrupted sleep pattern with less restful sleep may also contribute to the symptoms of hangover. Hangover is medically also known as vasalgia.

There is little scientific evidence to back up many of the proposed "hangover cures." However, experts agree that rehydration is an essential step in managing the symptoms of hangover. Drinking lots of water during and after consumption of alcohol can be of benefit, as can consumption of electrolyte-containing beverages such as some sports drinks. If you can consume fluids before going to bed following an evening of overindulging, that's even better.

"Sleeping it off" is another tried-and-true remedy. Taking pain relievers, such as ibuprofen (Advil), to relieve headaches and muscle aches can also be helpful. However, avoid taking the pain reliever acetaminophen (Tylenol), which has the potential to damage the liver, especially in conjunction with alcohol.

Most experts agree that eating can help relieve the symptoms of hangover, but contrary to popular belief, there are no specific foods or types of foods that are best in this situation. Vitamin B1 (thiamine) and B6 (pyridoxine) supplements have also been shown in some studies to lessen the severity of hangover symptoms.

What about that cup of coffee? Coffee itself has not been proven to have an effect on hangover symptoms, but the caffeine in coffee can increase the effect of pain medicines, such as ibuprofen. Because caffeine can further dehydrate the body, most experts don't recommend drinking coffee while nursing a hangover. Water, green tea, or other decaffeinated teas are a better choice.

Finally, as with many other conditions, the adage about the ounce of prevention holds true. Avoiding excessive alcohol consumption, drinking plenty of non-alcoholic beverages between alcoholic drinks, and consuming alcohol with food can all help you avoid a hangover.

REFERENCE:

Cohagan, Amy, Richard Worthington, and Richard S. Krause. "Alcohol and Substance Abuse Evaluation." eMedicine.com. Dec. 4, 2009. <http://emedicine.medscape.com/article/805084-overview>.


Last Editorial Review: 11/27/2013




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