Ah, the morning after. There’s nothing in the world quite like it, except, perhaps, being flattened by a steamroller and living through it.

Although they are the most revered of self ­inflicted ailments, hangovers are not well understood. Many physicians believe that they arise from two phenomena-a slight swelling of brain and dehydration.

The mechanism causing the swelling of the brain is not clear, but it may be a selective effect of alcohol, according to Joseph A. Lieberman III, M.D., M.P.H., chairman of the Department of family and Community medicine at the Medical Center of Delaware in Wilmington. The dehydration occurs because alcohol acts as a diuretic, causing you to urinate more frequently.

Whatever the exact reasons that you’re feeling so bad, the bottom line is that you do. The tips that follow are the doctor’s prescription for some relief.

Replace your fluids. Since much of the discomfort Of a hangover comes from the dehydration your body experiences, drinking lots of liquids may make you feel better, according to Lieberman. “Rehydrate yourself with something that is not offensive to your stomach,” he says. “The alcohol ends to make the mucous membranes of the stomach and small intestines sensitive and irritated. Acidic fluids, like orange juice, may make it worse.” Some tried-and-trues are water and mildly carbonated sodas. Skip the Bloody Mary mix.

Treat it early. Hangovers are one ailment where the treatment may be more effective if it precedes the symptoms, according to E. M. Hecht, M.D., a New York-based general practitioner. Also, “with any pain syndrome, it’s best to treat it in its earliest stages,” he says. He recommends drinking plenty of fluids before going to bed, and, if you suspect that you’ll be waking with a headache, taking a dose of acetaminophen.

Stick with clear liquids. Until you feel that you’ve really recovered, it’s probably best to avoid food, especially foods that are spicy or highly seasoned, says Lieberman. He recommends sticking with liquids until you feel you are able to tolerate something solid.

Eat a banana. “Some people believe you need to replace potassium because of what you may lose with the frequent urination that you experience when you drink alcohol,” Hecht says. If your stomach can handle it, eating a few bananas may help you feel better more quickly, he explains.

Take two acetaminophen. Non-aspirin pain relievers, especially acetaminophen, are probably the best cures for a hangover-induced headache, says Lieberman. Although aspirin will probably also work for pain, it can aggravate an already irritated stomach, he says.

Skip the hair of the dog. Some people swear that a morning drink of whatever you drink last night will cure a hangover. However, doctors don’t tend to agree with this “hair-of-the-dog-that-bit-you” philosophy. “It will dehydrate you further. Don’t do it,” says Gary H. Goldman, M.D., an assistant attending physician at The New York Hospital-Cornell Medical Center in New York.

“Drinking the next day will only re-create the problem,” says James E. Bridges, M.D., a family physician in Fremont, Nebraska.

Common sense says that the logic of this remedy seems to be lacking. After all, if you hit your thumb with a hammer, would you hit it again to stop it from hurting?

Treat it like an illness. Cancel your appointments for the day. Call in sick to work, if you can. Draw the shades. Take the telephone off the hook. Stay in bed for an extra hour-or more. Basically, if you do whatever you can to pay your body back for the damage you did to it last night, then it may pay you back by getting you back on your feet a little faster.

Take it easy on your tummy. “Eat sick foods, such as toast, soup, or tea, if you can hold anything down,” suggests Goldman. Try nibbling rather than sitting down to a full meal. Let your stomach be your guide as you go through the recuperation process.

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