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Dr. SpryAsk the Doctor with Dr. Leslie Spry, MD, FACP

Alcohol and the Kidneys

1. How does drinking alcohol affect the kidneys?

Alcohol directly interferes with the action of a hormone known as anti-diuretic hormone (ADH), which is also known as Vasopressin. This hormone signals the kidneys to save water in cases of stress or dehydration. Drinking alcohol interferes with this and leads to the increase in urine output commonly seen when you drink alcohol. In some instances, this can lead to further dehydration. Drinking beer to excess can cause changes in blood chemistry that includes low blood sodium level. This is called beer potomania. Alcohol in daily excess (more than two drinks for men and more than one drink in women) can cause high blood pressure which is one of the leading causes of chronic kidney disease in the United States today.

2. If I'm at risk for kidney disease or have kidney disease, will alcohol affect my kidneys differently?

If you already have kidney disease, drinking alcohol to excess leads to worsening hypertension (high blood pressure) which can accelerate kidney damage. Alcohol can also cause significant drug interactions with medication that you are taking for chronic kidney disease (CKD) and lead to complications with the drugs that you are taking. Drinking alcohol to excess can also lead to liver disease which could cause serious complications with underlying CKD.

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