Why Your Hands Swell When You Drink Alcohol (and What to Do About It)

Staying hydrated with water when you drink alcoholic beverages may help you avoid side effects like swollen hands.
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Perhaps headaches, nausea and fatigue come to mind when you think of a hangover. But drinking can provoke other side effects, including swollen hands after alcohol. But why do your hands swell when you drink alcohol?

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Below, we explain why you may experience this side effect, plus how to reduce swelling after drinking alcohol.

Why Your Hands Swell After Drinking

Indeed, alcohol can cause swelling. Here are the reasons you may have swollen hands or fingers after drinking:

1. From Dehydration

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it makes you urinate more frequently, according to Cleveland Clinic. That's because it inhibits the release of the hormone vasopressin, thus prompting your kidneys to pass more water out of your system than usual.

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The result? Dehydration. And when you're dehydrated, your body starts to conserve the water it still has. In other words, drinking alcohol can make you retain water. And one possible symptom of that water retention — a condition called edema — is swelling, most often in your hands, arms, feet, ankles and legs, per the Mayo Clinic.

2. From an Electrolyte Imbalance

Excess urinating can also throw your electrolytes out of whack, according to the Cleveland Clinic. And one symptom of an electrolyte imbalance is — you guessed it — edema, per the University of Michigan Health, which is why you may notice swollen hands after drinking alcohol.

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The salty snack you might eat while out drinking can also contribute to puffiness. That's because eating too much salty food — especially when your electrolytes are already out of balance — can lead to further water retention and the resulting swelling, according to the Mayo Clinic.

3. From Liver Problems

Long-term heavy drinking can lead to alcoholic liver disease, where your liver becomes scarred and damaged, per Mount Sinai. Signs of the condition include edema and redness on the palms of your hands, along with other symptoms like:

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  • Abdominal pain and tenderness
  • Dry mouth
  • Increased thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Jaundice
  • Loss of appetite
  • Nausea

How Much Alcohol Should You Drink?

The 2020-2025 Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommends adults limit alcohol intake to the following amounts per day:

  • People assigned female at birth (AFAB): ​One drink or less
  • People assigned male at birth (AMAB): ​Two drinks or less

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines heavy drinking as having the following amounts of alcohol per week:

  • People AFAB: ​Eight drinks or more
  • People AMAB: ​15 drinks or more

How to Deal With It

Mild edema should resolve itself, according to the Mayo Clinic. But there are some strategies to treat or prevent swollen hands after alcohol, such as:

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1. Stay Hydrated

Drinking plenty of water before, during and after sipping alcoholic beverages can help you stay hydrated and keep your electrolytes more in balance, per the Cleveland Clinic.

2. Limit Salty Foods

Skipping salty snacks may help you avoid additional fluid retention and the puffiness that can come with it, according to the Mayo Clinic. So next time you drink alcohol, reach for low-sodium foods instead.

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3. Drink Moderately

Get ahead of swollen hands and other hangover symptoms by drinking a smaller amount of alcohol, according to the Cleveland Clinic.

Stick to the Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommendation of one drink or less for people AFAB and two drinks or less for people AMAB.

Tip

If your swollen hands from alcohol are accompanied by other symptoms like abdominal pain or jaundice, visit your doctor to see if you have an underlying liver issue.

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