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  • Alcoholism and alcohol abuse can cause quite a few side effects, including swollen feet. Swelling or bloating of the stomach is more common, but swelling can occur in other places as well.

    Understanding Alcohol-Related Swollen Feet

    Alcohol can cause the body to retain water and in turn, swell. Alcohol causes dehydration in the body and, to help with the lack of hydration, the body begins to retain water and that water retention makes the body swell. It can happen in the stomach, the legs, and the feet.

    How Your Body Processes Alcohol

    The swelling is also a reaction to the alcohol being processed by your body. 

    When you drink alcohol, you’re taking in water, ethanol (alcohol), sugar, and fat depending on the type of drink. The body knows how to store the water, sugar, and fat, but it wants to get rid of the alcohol as soon as possible. 

    It’ll process the alcohol first which leaves the water and sugar in storage. This causes water retention and swelling. Gravity pushes the water to your feet and that’s why they tend to swell more often than other parts of the body.

    How Long Does Swelling Last?

    Normally, the swelling doesn’t last more than a day or two. If the swelling persists for longer, it can be a sign of a more serious condition and you should see your healthcare provider as soon as possible.

    Alcohol & Edema

    Edema is another form of swelling you should be aware of. Edema is excessive water retention in the body and causes swelling and puffiness in the legs, ankles, and feet.

    Edema can occur for a number of reasons including:

    • prolonged sitting
    • high salt intake
    • certain medicines
    • drinking alcohol

    Heavy alcohol use can especially bring on edema because alcohol dehydrates your body and edema is the body’s solution to that dehydration. 

    As your system tries to balance itself from the alcohol, it can go overboard and keep too much extra fluid in the body leading to swelling. 

    The dehydration from alcohol can also lead to a higher concentration of sodium in your body which causes water to enter and expand the blood vessels and cause edema and high blood pressure. 

    When Swelling Is A Serious Medical Issue

    If swelling lasts for more than two days, it could be a sign of a more serious, life-threatening issue. Some of the conditions that could be causing the prolonged swelling include:

    Pulmonary Edema

    This is excess fluid in the lungs that can lead to respiratory distress syndrome. Heavy alcohol intake increases the chances of pulmonary edema.

    Alcoholic Liver Disease

    Excessive alcohol consumption, swollen feet, and jaundice (a yellow tint to the skin) can mean liver damage. Liver damage can then lead to ascites, a buildup of fluid in the abdomen. This can eventually lead to alcohol-related liver disease or cirrhosis.

    Alcoholic Hepatitis

    Swollen feet or limbs can be a sign of liver swelling and inflammation, which are common symptoms of alcoholic hepatitis.

    Heart Problems

    Heavy alcohol consumption can lead to cardiomyopathy that can cause the heart muscle to weaken and potentially lead to heart failure.

    Kidney Disease

    Swollen feet can also mean your body is not processing fluids properly due to a damaged kidney.

    How To Reduce & Prevent Swelling

    There are a few ways you can reduce and even prevent swelling. Some of the easiest ways to reduce swelling include:

    • increase the amount of water you’re drinking (alcohol is a diuretic, which means it causes your body to lose water through urine)
    • stop alcohol consumption
    • reduce your consumption of salty foods
    • rest with your feet elevated
    • soak your feet in cool water or water with Epsom salt

    Not consuming alcoholic beverages, or only drinking in small amounts, is really the only way to prevent swelling entirely. Since heavy drinking could be the cause of the swelling, quitting drinking will likely prevent it. 

    If you or a loved one is having issues with alcohol use, call our helpline today. We can help you find the treatment options that are best for you.

    Written by Ark Behavioral Health Editorial Team
    ©2023 Ark National Holdings, LLC. | All Rights Reserved.
    This page does not provide medical advice.

    NHS Inform - Alcohol-related liver disease
    National Center for Biotechnology Information - Causes and signs of edema
    National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism - Alcohol's Effects on the Body

    Medically Reviewed by
    Manish Mishra, MBBS
    on July 4, 2022
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