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Anatomy of a hangover: Why your head hurts, what cures work

Hangovers — whatever time of year —  are only temporary, even if they don’t feel that way. Here are some tips.

The malaise or general uneasiness you feel during a hangover can be triggered by inflammation throughout the body, another repercussion of heavy drinking.
The malaise or general uneasiness you feel during a hangover can be triggered by inflammation throughout the body, another repercussion of heavy drinking.
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If you are among the many Americans who celebrated the NYE ball drop with several alcoholic drinks, you probably thought you’d be entering the new year in better shape than this.

Your head hurt. Your mouth was dry. Maybe you were a little nauseated.

Hangovers — whatever time of year — are only temporary. Their severity and length can depend on things like how much a person drank.

Hangovers are characterized by the onset of several not-so-fun symptoms, including:

  • Mild dehydration.
  • Disrupted sleep.
  • Gastrointestinal irritation.
  • Inflammation.
  • Mini-withdrawal.

That’s according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism, which says it can be hard to predict how many drinks it takes to spark a hangover. That depends on the person.

“Any time people drink to intoxication, there is a chance they could have a hangover the next day,” the institution says.

Since hangovers can be a combination of various symptoms, there’s not just one cause-and-effect reaction happening when you drink — there are several.

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes increased urination. That can cause dehydration, which explains the thirst, fatigue, dry mouth and headaches the morning after a night of drinking.

Fatigue can be the result of a lack of quality sleep. One too many adult beverages might help you fall asleep quickly, but the nagging symptoms of a hangover might wake you up earlier than normal.

Alcohol also can make it hard for your body to regulate its own temperature.

An upset stomach can be one of the more brutal symptoms. Drinking can irritate the lining of your stomach and intestines while also slowing your digestion rate, which can lead to nausea, health experts say.

The malaise or general uneasiness you feel during a hangover can be triggered by inflammation throughout the body after heavy drinking.

And if you feel like hangovers affect your mental state, that could be mini-withdrawal. Drinking can make some feel more relaxed or euphoric, and the brain adjusts to maintain a balance. But sobering up can cause those feelings to dissipate, which forces the brain to adjust, leaving some people feeling anxious or restless.

You’ve probably heard of and maybe even tried so-called hangover remedies, like taking a shower, eating greasy food, drinking coffee — or drinking more alcohol.

Instead, health experts say you might want to try these tips to get you back to your normal self:

  • Hydrate — Drinking water when you wake up is a great start to combating hangover symptoms. Even having a glass the night before can help fend off the dehydrating effects. Sports drinks can help with rehydration efforts while also restoring electrolytes.
  • Eat — It can help to get food in your body, as long as it’s the right food. Health experts generally caution against eating greasy, fatty food when you’re hungover. Eating fruit is better. And salmon can help boost B6 and B12 vitamin levels.

Cleveland Clinic dietitian Julia Zumpano recommends “bland” foods like bananas, rice, applesauce and toast, which are easy to digest and can boost blood sugar.

  • Sleep — Not getting enough sleep can affect your well-being regardless of alcohol intake. Getting extra sleep after a night of drinking might help lessen the blow, experts say.
  • Wait it out — Health officials tend to agree that the only foolproof way to get rid of a hangover is time.

“There’s no magic pill, no miracle cure to make a hangover go away,” says Dr. James Roach, a Cleveland Clinic emergency medicine physician. “Your body has to catch up and metabolize the alcohol you consumed.”

If you think you are dealing with alcohol abuse and need help, the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism provides resources to find treatment.

Read more at usatoday.com