You wake up in a haze. Head pounding. Stomach churching. The stale smell of last’s night overindulgence on your breath. You wonder, how long can this go on? Well, according to this medical case report, perhaps up to 4 weeks. In 2007, doctors in Scotland reported the case of a man who experienced a headache and blurry vision for a month after drinking 60 – yes, 60 – pints of beer.
How long can a hangover last?
Around October 2006, a 37-year-old man showed up at the Southern General Hospital in Glasgow complaining of blurred eyesight and a dull headache that hadn’t shifted in a month. Their investigations couldn’t pinpoint where these lingering symptoms were coming from: he didn’t have a head injury, he didn’t appear to have an infection, and his blood pressure was normal.
The patient then revealed that he had recently gone on a multi-day alcohol binge following a “domestic crisis.” He estimated that in just four days he drank up to 60 pints of beer.
Following the binge, his headache emerged and he spent a day throwing up, which he put down to a “bad hangover.” Although the nausea eventually drifted away, the banging headache continue to linger for days, then weeks.
His doctors performed a CT scan on his brain, which showed nothing unusual. However, a spinal tap showed a significant build-up of pressure around the brain. Blood tests then revealed that revealed high levels of lupus anticoagulant, which the doctors believed could be a sign of an auto-immune problem where his body was attacking his own tissues.
To remedy the problem, he was given a long-term treatment of anticoagulation. By July 2007, the patient reported no longer having a headache or blurred vision.
The case study was reported in the medical journal The Lancet.
What causes a hangover?
Of course, this case study is an extreme example, but it goes to show how damaging binge drinking can be to the body.
Typical hangovers are often blamed on mild dehydration. Alcohol suppresses the release of vasopressin, a hormone produced by the brain that sends signals to the kidneys causing them to retain fluid. This lack of vasopressin makes you pee more and you lose more fluids.
However, dehydration is just one of the issues at hand. Excessive alcohol can also mess with your quality of sleep, irritate your stomach, cause inflammation, and result in the build-up of unwanted chemical by-products. The most infamous of these is acetaldehyde, a toxic compound that’s produced by the breakdown of alcohol in the liver.
Fortunately, acetaldehyde does eventually break down in the body, but this might take some time. There’s not much you can do to fix this problem other than wait it out. That explains why a nasty hangover can continue to relentlessly lurk even after you’ve loaded up on water, painkillers, and a decent breakfast.