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Living with hydrocephalus: The Hydro Hangover

April 7, 2013

I have a hangover.  This is not good.  Hangovers are never good at the best of times, but when you have hydrocephalus, it’s a bad situation.  I would like to state before I continue that this is a pretty rare occurrence.  I have not become teetotal since my diagnosis; in the early years of my reluctance to accept my new condition I would sometimes go out and purposefully get drunk, as if to say to the rest of the world (but really more to myself), ‘See?  I am just like everyone else!  I can go out to clubs, dance too much, drink too much, suffer too much the next day and get over it!  My life hasn’t really changed completely!’.  Of course the reality was that I would suffer far more than a generally healthy person would and it would take me days to get over it.  Luckily this phase didn’t last.  I snapped out of it quickly enough once acceptance kicked in and since then I’ve been pretty healthy.  But I still have a social drink and sometimes a glass at home in the evening with dinner.  But hangovers – nah.  They’re simply not worth it. For anyone wondering how drinking may affect a shunted brain, here’s the lowdown;

  • Alcohol swells the blood vessels in the brain pretty damn quick; if you’re erring on the side of higher-than-normal pressure anyway (which many shunted folk do), it’ll instantly make your head feel bad.  If you’re erring on the side of slightly low pressure (which I tend to do a lot) it makes no real difference – yet.
  • It doesn’t take much to get drunk.  I mean, hardly anything – two glasses and I’m phone-texting inappropriate people to tell them I love them.
  • Even slight increases/decreases in brain pressure can make you pretty dizzy and it’s worse if you have a shunt.  Falling over happens.
  • The next day, dehydration of the brain means one cracker of a headache.  This isn’t from the brain itself; there are no pain receptors in the brain.  It’s all the surrounding bits which hurt.  The meninges (layers covering the brain) have pain receptors in them.  They also have blood vessels which, during a hangover, are stretched thin due to low pressure, due to dehydration.  When they stretch, they irritate the pain receptors.  The pain receptors wake up and get to work, hurting the crap out of your head.
  • Filling up on water doesn’t help either; the blood vessels in the meninges then get pushed the other way as the fluid gradually returns to the brain, irritating the pain receptors and – you get the picture.

So if hangovers of yore, before I was diagnosed, seemed bad, hangovers now are on epic proportions – even if I haven’t actually had that much to drink.  drinking-booze-courteney-cox-cougar-town-ecards-someecardsNowadays I have a hangover like this one about once or (sometimes) twice a year.  I’m very careful with how much I drink.  Sometimes, though, it just happens.  Like last night.  Friends over, long-overdue catch-up, singing along to music – it was great.  I thought I was doing all the right things; I diluted my wine with lots of ice, drank a non-alcoholic drink every so often, had a pint of herbal tea before I went to bed (not in a pint glass; I’m not a heathen.  I just like really big mugs which hold over half a pint) and it still didn’t make one jot of a difference.  As soon as I opened my eyes, I knew.  Lying still wasn’t going to help.  Pretending I hadn’t actually had any alcohol wasn’t going to help.  NO-THING was going to help this one.  Ouch.