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Home / Journal / Can Hangovers Cause Fevers?

Can Hangovers Cause Fevers?

Anyone who drinks is familiar with the unpleasant effects of excessive alcohol consumption. A hangover from alcohol results in a range of symptoms such as vomiting, headache, dizziness, nausea, and sensitivity for noise and light. Moreover, hangovers can also be associated with a fever. But what exactly causes the hangover fever and can a hangover pill that works to prevent hangover symptoms prevent a hangover fever?

Keep reading to find out!

As you know, the amount of fun we have on Saturday night may be directly related to the amount of misery we feel Sunday morning. And that’s because the symptoms and severity of a hangover are related to the blood alcohol level you reach, how rapidly you drink, and the amount you drink. After the alcohol has been cleared from the system, a hangover can last for 8 to 24 hours [1], depending on how much you've consumed.

On the other hand, a fever, in general, is caused by an underlying disease process or presence of infection. Fever is a manifestation of our body that there is something wrong or there is a temperature imbalance such as hypothermia, which our body compensates by increasing its core temperature.

All in all, hangover fevers and chills after binge drinking alcohol are not uncommon, especially in the winter. For instance, alcohol makes one’s body warm inside but expands blood vessels thus causing rapid heat loss and diminishing the natural shivering response of the body system. This can result in hangover chills which may be followed by a fever.

But how exactly a hangover causes fevers? We list the 3 main culprits.

1. Alcohol and the immune system

Alcohol can trigger your immune system the same way that an infection does — except that, instead of fighting disease, your immune system is fighting the alcohol you just consumed. Studies have shown that hangover symptoms are often accompanied by high levels of cytokines, proteins that the immune system uses to signal cells [2]. When you’re sick, your immune system might use cytokines to fight infection by giving you a fever, for example. Drinking alcohol can cause your immune system to release cytokines in the same way, causing exhaustion, achy muscles, nausea, and headaches.

In other words, alcohol has been shown to trigger cytokine release and this causes symptoms that are similar to inflammation. Cytokines have an interplay with inflammatory mediators such as histamine [3].

Moreover, congeners and other components in alcoholic beverages such as histamine itself are able to trigger the inflammatory effects of alcohol. Inflammation has four cardinal signs and one of them is a fever [4].

2. Hypoglycemia

Heavy drinking without eating can block your liver from releasing stored glucose into your bloodstream, causing alcohol-induced hypoglycemia [5][6]. The low sugar levels in the blood have been associated with among other things fatigue, mood disturbance, and the hangover fever.

More specifically, each time you drink, your body is 100% focused on breaking down the alcohol. During these times, it is impossible for your liver to create consistent amounts of blood sugar. This doesn’t occur every time you drink but is likely to happen if there’s nothing in your stomach and you opt to drink a lot.

What you need to know here is that alcohol can negatively alter your blood sugar levels. When a person drinks alcohol, the body reacts to it as a toxin, and channels all energy into expelling it. This means that other important processes are interrupted – including the production of glucose and the hormones needed to regulate it.

And because blood sugar is the primary source of your body's energy, hypoglycemia may lead to symptoms like shakiness, sweating, headache, fatigue, and fever.

3. Hypothermia

Everybody gets cold, but certain people are more susceptible to heat loss than others. While alcohol may make your body feel warm inside, it actually causes your blood vessels to expand, resulting in more rapid heat loss from the surface of your skin. The body's natural shivering response is diminished in people who've been drinking alcohol [7]. In addition, the use of alcohol can affect your judgment about the need to get inside or wear warm clothes in cold weather conditions.

In other words, alcohol takes blood and heat away from the core of your body. So, while it feels like you’re warm because your skin is warm, your vital organs aren’t as warm as you might think they are. This might lead to a fever, at best, or even hypothermia, which can be dangerous.

Your social life doesn’t have to ground to a halt in the winter. However, if your destination is the bar or a club and you choose to drink alcohol, it’s important that you take extra care in the cold.

Avoiding hangover fevers and other symptoms

Steer clear of a hangover by following suggestions from the NIAAA:

  • Pace yourself. Drink alcoholic beverages slowly. Drink water or other non-alcoholic drinks throughout the evening to keep your body hydrated.
  • Skip the smokes. Studies show that smoking significantly increased the risk and severity of a hangover [8].
  • Eat. Munch on snacks during the night to slow the absorption of alcohol and keep your blood alcohol level low.
  • Try fruits. Studies have found that eating fruits and drinking fruit juices decrease the intensity of hangovers [9].
  • Snack on crackers. Bland foods such as toast and crackers can raise low blood sugar and help with nausea.

A big misconception is that severe hangovers are entirely about dehydration. But the main issues are inflammation and oxidative stress – that’s what might trigger your immune system and cause the hangover headache, fatigue, nausea, and even fever.

And remember, it's much easier to prevent a hangover than it is to deal with it the next morning. 

Sources:

[1] Alcohol Hangover

[2] Effects of alcohol hangover on cytokine production in healthy subjects

[3] The histamine-cytokine network in allergic inflammation

[4] Inflammation

[5] Carbohydrate metabolism of patients with clinical alcohol hypoglycemia

[6] Alcohol Hypoglycemia

[7] Mayo Clinic - Hypothermia

[8] Role of tobacco smoking in hangover symptoms among university students

[9] Effect of mixed fruit and vegetable juice on alcohol hangovers in healthy adults

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