Have you ever gotten home from a night out, kicked off your strangely tight shoes, and found that your feet look puffy and swollen? It’s a fairly common symptom that could stem from a variety of causes. If it happens after drinking, the alcohol could be causing it.
In many cases, this is a benign symptom that goes away on its own.
If you’re uncomfortable, it can also be remedied by a few simple methods. However, swelling in your feet can also be an indication of some serious medical problems.
Learn more about this symptom, how it can be stopped, and what else it might indicate about your body.
Different food items and environmental causes can lead to swelling feet. One of these causes is alcohol. Drinking alcohol can cause your body to retain water. Why? There are a few biological reasons for this.
When you drink alcohol, you are consuming water, ethanol (drinking alcohol), and things like sugars and fats, depending on what’s mixed into your drink. Your body can store sugar, fat, and water, but it has no way to deal with alcohol other than to filter it out. When alcohol gets into your bloodstream, your body essentially treats it like poison and prioritizes processing it.
Your body works to process alcohol first so that other things like the water and sugar may go to storage, causing water retention. Fluids start to collect in your body tissue, and gravity makes water collect in your feet and sometimes your hands. After you stop drinking and your body can filter it out of your system, you may start to see the swelling go down.
Swelling after a night of drinking is usually temporary and may be gone within 24 to 48 hours. However, there are some things you can do to relieve swelling and any discomfort it’s causing by getting rid of water retention after drinking alcohol.
If you’re starting to feel bloated, the first thing you should do is to stop drinking. Let your body process the alcohol and filter it out of your system. Pay attention to your swelling the next morning or after 12 to 24 hours. As your body processes out the alcohol and then returns to processing other liquids normally, your swelling should go down. If the swelling lasts for a long time and doesn’t go away after a day or two, you may want to speak to a doctor about other potential causes.
Drinking water may seem like the opposite of what you should do when you have a fluids problem, especially considering the fact that the swelling is due in part to alcohol-caused water retention, but increasing your water intake can help reduce swelling. It’s also common to notice your hands and feet swelling after walking around all day on a hot day. That could be because dehydration is sending your body into conservation mode. When you don’t get enough water, your cells hold on to as much water as possible, which causes swelling.
Alcohol is also a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose water through urine. Most people who have drunk alcohol will know that you can get up multiple times to pee even when you just have a few beers.
Drinking water can help replace some of the fluids you lose because of alcohol. Dehydration also contributes to hangover symptoms, so staying hydrated and moderating your alcohol intake can help you avoid a hangover.
Salty foods go well with certain beverages, but they also contribute to swelling and inflammation. High amounts of salt can make you retain water. Sodium in your blood serves to draw water into your blood vessels, causing them to expand and swell. This can also raise your blood pressure, and a consistent salty diet can lead to heart disease. Excessive amounts of alcohol can also increase your blood pressure.
A diet high in salt and alcohol can thicken the walls of your blood vessels so that they can cope with extra pressure, which raises your blood pressure even more. If you stop eating salt and drink more water right now, your swelling may go down. If you limit salt and alcohol consistently, your blood pressure may also go down.
This is a fairly simple solution. If you have too much fluid in your feet, elevate your feet and let gravity work for you. This can help to ease discomfort, but it doesn’t necessarily solve the issues that are causing swelling and inflammation.
Soaking your feet in cold water can also provide some quick relief to swollen feet. Blood vessels contract when they’re cold, which can help reduce swelling. You can also try soaking in Epsom salt. The theory is similar to how sodium draws water into your blood when it’s in your body. The salt is absorbed into the skin and draws water out of the body. It also boosts the magnesium in your body, which can act as an anti-inflammatory. However, it’s a good idea to moisturize after an Epsom salt bath. Drawing water out of your skin can leave it dry and irritated.
If alcohol causes your feet to swell after a night of drinking, it’s most likely temporary. If the swelling doesn’t go down, alcohol could be causing other serious problems. Swelling is a symptom of the following problems that heavy alcohol use can contribute to:
Issues like hepatitis and liver cirrhosis can be dangerous problems that are caused by frequent excessive drinking or alcoholism. Alcoholic hepatitis is when your liver swells and can’t function like it’s supposed to. This can lead to the retention of fluids that cause your hands, feet, and belly to swell. Cirrhosis is caused by years of heavy drinking and involves liver scarring that impedes important functions.
Frequent heavy alcohol use can also damage your kidneys over time. Kidneys help to process liquid and help control the overall water content in your body. If they are damaged, it can lead to more water in your body, which causes bloating and swelling in the extremities.
Alcoholism can also cause a condition called cardiomyopathy, which is damage to your heart, causing it to stretch and weaken over time. A weak heart struggles to pump blood throughout the body, and fluids can leak into your body tissues. A common symptom of this problem is swelling hands and feet.
If your swelling persists and you have a history of heavy alcohol use, speak to your doctor as soon as possible to rule out potentially dangerous complications.
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (2018, January). Alcohol Addiction. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/principles-drug-addiction-treatment-research-based-guide-third-edition/evidence-based-approaches-to-drug-addiction-treatment/pharmacotherapi-1
National Institute on Drug Abuse. (n.d.). Alcohol. Retrieved from https://www.drugabuse.gov/drugs-abuse/alcohol
Maisch, B. (2016, September). Alcoholic cardiomyopathy : The result of dosage and individual predisposition. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5013142/
Sheps, S. G., M.D. (2019, January 09). How alcohol affects blood pressure. Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/high-blood-pressure/expert-answers/blood-pressure/faq-20058254