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Hangover - Symptoms of a hangover

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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The symptoms of a hangover include:

  • tiredness,
  • headache,
  • sensitivity to light and noise,
  • general muscle aches,
  • nausea and vomiting,
  • mild diarrhoea,
  • shaking and tremors,
  • thirst, and
  • red eyes.

Some hangover symptoms are similar to the feeling of being drunk. For example, you may feel dizzy, as if the room is spinning. Hangovers can also alter your mood and behaviour - you may feel anxious, depressed or easily irritated.

The quality of your sleep while you are drunk is not as good as usual because the alcohol interferes with your normal sleep pattern. Alcohol reduces the amount of time you spend in deep sleep and instead keeps you in lighter sleep, causing you to wake easily during the night. Next morning, you are not properly refreshed and can feel like you have not slept well.

Alcohol also causes dehydration, which contributes to hangover symptoms, causing thirst and headaches.

Why hangover symptoms vary

Alcohol affects people in different ways, and your hangovers may be different to those of your friends. Symptoms often depend on:

  • the amount of alcohol that you have drunk,
  • the amount of food that you have eaten during that time,
  • the type of alcohol that you have drunk,
  • your size and weight.

The heavier you are, the quicker your body will be able to absorb the alcohol. This is why men often seem to be able to drink more alcohol than women.

Research has found that darker-coloured drinks may cause more severe hangover symptoms because they often contain greater amounts of toxic compounds called congeners. These are by-products that are formed when wine or spirits are made, which give each drink its character. 

Tyramine, a chemical that can cause headaches, is also often found in alcohol.

Medical Review: December 12, 2008
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