Liver Health

Updated 02 November 2015

How the doctor would cure a hangover

Nothing beats a night out on the town every once in a while, but waking up with a pounding head the next morning is quite a comedown. Dr Owen Wiese explains how a doctor would treat your hangover.

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After a night on the tiles, you're struggling with a killer hangover! Headaches, thirst, tiredness, muscle aches, nausea and vomiting are all reminders that the bottle was way deeper than you thought.

Although most hangovers eventually go away by themselves, they can be remarkably unpleasant. For most people, hangovers are a once-in-a-while occurrence. If it however becomes a regular event, you may want to ask yourself whether your alcohol consumption is excessive or even abusive.

Read: How much alcohol is too much?

Why does alcohol cause hangovers? Alcohol has a diuretic effect, causing your body to produce more urine, which can lead to dehydration if you don't replace the water you lose. Some people may argue that if you drink more beer, wine or spirits, you will replace the fluid you're losing, but the more alcohol you drink, the more you urinate, and the more dehydrated you will become. 

Alcohol also leads to a drop in your blood sugar, causing you to feel tired, irritated and unwell.

Besides causing your blood vessels to dilate (leading to headaches), "one too many" can also irritate the stomach lining, causing nausea, vomiting and even stomach cramps.

Read: Symptoms of liver disease

So how does a doctor treat a hangover?

When you start discussing a hangover with your doctor, he will first assess whether you have regular episodes of binge drinking or excessive alcohol intake. In short, your doctor will try to establish if you are an alcoholic. He will ask you about:

- Frequency of episodes

- The amount of alcohol you drink

- The type of alcohol you usually drink

Your doctor will examine you, looking for signs of dehydration (poor capillary refill, decreased skin turgor, dry mucous membranes). He will check your blood pressure and pulse as signs of dehydration, and test your blood sugar to check for hypoglycaemia. He may ask for a urine sample to test and will also perform an examination to check if your liver is enlarged (a sign of chronic alcoholism).

How your doctor will treat dehydration: 

- In severe cases you might need intravenous fluids (a drip).

- He will prescribe medication to stop vomiting or help ease nausea.

- If it appears that your blood sugar is very low, your doctor might administer intravenous fluids containing sugar (dextrose or glucose).

- He might add vitamins or minerals to your drip (giving it a yellow colour – also known as a banana bag).

To ease your headache your doctor will prescribe simple pain relief medication like paracetamol and advise you to take extra minerals and vitamins.

Good advice is to also eat crackers or toast to help restore your blood sugar.

A good night out can certainly take its toll! Take care of your liver and your headache by keeping well hydrated.

Read more:

The A-Z of alcohol

Low-carb alcohol for Banters

South Africans are drinking more than ever