Can a hangover cause a fever? It’s actually a surprisingly common question and one that doesn’t exactly have a straightforward answer.
Having sweats, chills and feeling like you have a fever are commonly experienced side effects of a hangover. And if you’ve woken up after a night of drinking and feeling like you have a fever, you’re certainly not alone.
But what exactly causes hangover fever?
In this article, we’re going to take a detailed look at whether a hangover can cause a fever. We’ll do so by exploring how alcohol affects your body as well as looking into other conditions that may mimic hangover fever.
What is a fever?
Before we go into whether hangovers cause fever, we first need to go over what a fever actually is.
Your normal body temperature is approximately 37C (98.6F).
A fever is usually when your body temperature is 38C (100.4F) or more. And fevers are usually associated with feeling hot, cold or shivery. So, it’s an uncomfortable feeling to have and in most cases, you’ll be feeling pretty rough.(1)
Fevers are often referred to as high and low-grade. This is usually an arbitrary number and is usually describing a fever up to 38.5C (101.3F) and high grade being over 39C (102.2F)
The most common cause of a fever is having an infection. However, other things such as certain medications, autoimmune conditions, and heatstroke can also cause fever.
So now that we’ve got the basics out the way, let’s get straight into whether an alcohol hangover can cause fever.
Alcohol, hangovers and body temperature
Alcohol affects your body in several different ways and there are countless studies looking into these various aspects.
Next up, we’ll go over some of the factors which can have an effect on causing a fever when hungover.
Alcohol and temperature regulation
Surprisingly, the research into alcohol’s effect on body temperature regulation is very limited. Only a handful of old studies from the 1980’s have shown that drinking alcohol reduces core body temperature.(2)(3)
These studies showed that alcohol disrupts your body’s normal thermoregulatory systems and slows down the response to feeling cold. In basic terms, it stops your body from shivering appropriately so that you can warm up when feeling cold.
More recently, a research group looked at body temperature overnight and found interesting results. In normal circumstances, your body cools down significantly overnight and is coolest by around 4am.
However, when test subjects were given alcohol, they found that body temperature increased by 0.36 degrees Celcius (0.65 degrees Fahrenheit).(4)
It may not sound like a lot, but this difference is equal to your body temperature being 43% higher than it should be after drinking alcohol.
Now, this doesn’t necessarily cause you to have a fever. But it shows the potential disruption to your body’s natural circadian temperature control.
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The most recognized cause of a fever when it comes to alcohol consumption is during alcohol withdrawal. Fever with alcohol withdrawal is a serious sign and is caused by “autonomic hyperstimulation”.(5)
Chronic alcohol consumption or alcohol dependency leads to changes in your brain receptors and neurotransmitters. Abrupt cessation of alcohol intake leads to a clinical syndrome called delirium tremens which can be life-threatening.(6)
Developing a fever, confusion, high heart rate and sweating are all signs of delirium tremens and are very serious signs and symptoms in alcohol withdrawal that required immediate medical attention.
It’s important to emphasize that alcohol withdrawal only occurs in people with long term alcohol dependency issues and is not relevant to hangover fever.
Alcohol and the immune system
Alcohol is well-known to affect your immune system. Several studies have shown that alcohol can stimulate the activity of certain immune cells by promoting the release of cytokines. Cytokines are chemical messengers that give signals to your cells to react a certain way.(7)(8)
Some articles online suggest that this activation of the immune system has a role in causing a low-grade fever when hungover. However, this hasn’t been proven.
Congeners in alcohol
Congeners in alcohol are naturally occurring substances that are producing during the alcohol fermentation process. Darker colored drinks that are aged in barrels typically contain much higher concentrations of congeners. Therefore, drinks such as red wine and whiskey have the highest levels.
Histamine is an example of a congener that is typically found in high concentrations in wine. Histamine in wine can dilate blood vessels and cause hot flushes.
Other congeners such as esters and aldehydes are highly volatile substances that react with your cells. As a result, this can promote an inflammatory response.
Can a hangover cause a fever?
So, now it’s time to take a look at the all-important question of whether hangovers cause a fever.
Based on the points mentioned above, it’s possible that drinking over your limits and consequently being the next day could make you feel warm. You could even have a borderline or low-grade fever.
However, this shouldn’t last long and a hangover should certainly not cause a high-grade fever.
Having something to eat and rehydrating in the morning should quickly make you feel better.
A hangover should not cause a persistent high fever. Medical advice should be sought if this is the case.
How to get rid of hangover fever
But before we start this section, it’s important for us to reiterate that hangovers shouldn’t cause a fever. That said, it’s not uncommon to feel hot and bothered in the morning.
The best way to sort your body’s temperature regulation is taking all the necessary recovery steps. These include having something to eat in the morning that’s not harsh on your stomach. This means avoiding greasy foods or hard to digest vegetables and salads.
Other than this, the single most important step is to drink plenty of water to rehydrate. A great way of doing so is investing in some rehydration sachets which have added minerals that facilitate water absorption.
More importantly, there are things you want to avoid in order not to worsen hangover fever which we will cover next.
Things to avoid
If you’re feeling like you have a hangover fever, you’ll want to avoid drinking coffee. Reaching for a cup of your favorite caffeinated beverage is a standard hangover remedy for most of us. However, it’ll certainly make you feel warmer as caffeine has thermogenic properties. This means it stimulates your cells to burn energy and, in turn, generate more heat.(9)
Therefore coffee for a hangover isn’t the best choice. Similarly, some of us decide to sweat out a hangover by going for a run. Once again, this will exacerbate dehydration and will clearly make you feel warmer.
Other causes of hangover fever
If you’ve woken up after a night out with a fever, you shouldn’t assume that the alcohol you drank last night is the cause.
This is especially the case if you’ve got a high fever that isn’t going away with a few hours. It could be a sign that you’ve coincidentally starting to develop some sort of infection.
In this case, it’s best to get on the phone to your doctor to get some advice.
Anything else to consider?
Hangovers are caused by drinking over your limits. If you’re feeling hot and bothered as if you have a fever in the morning, it’s a good sign that you’ve had too much for your body to handle.
Sticking to the basics will go a long way to prevent the worst hangovers. Drinking plenty of fluid, eating a meal before going out, and making sure you get enough sleep is key.
Hangover fever – Final words
So, that brings us to the end of our look at whether a hangover can cause a fever.
We’ve walked you through the basic things that you need to know about how alcohol can potentially affect your thermoregulatory systems as well as some tips for recovery.
Generally speaking, a low-grade fever after drinking alcohol is possible. But it really shouldn’t last more than a couple of hours and certainly doesn’t cause a high-grade fever.
Therefore, if you’ve woken up with a fever when hungover, it’s always best to discuss with your physician to get some advice.