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Alcohol and Spondylitis: 4 Things You Should Know

Medically reviewed by Diane M. Horowitz, M.D.
Written by Anika Brahmbhatt
Updated on October 25, 2022

How It Affects Spondylitis Symptoms | Alcohol May Influence Disease Progression | Alcohol and Spondylitis Medication | Risk of Developing Other Health Conditions | Listen to Your Body | Get Support

If you have spondylitis, you may wonder how alcohol could affect your symptoms, treatment, and disease progression. Spondylitis is a chronic inflammatory condition, and some people have found that environmental factors like foods can trigger inflammation and symptoms. Alcohol has a range of effects on the body and health, but with conflicting information online, it may be difficult to know how to approach drinking when living with spondylitis.

Your health care provider is the best source of advice if you have questions about drinking with spondylitis. The decision to drink or not is ultimately up to you. If you have been diagnosed with spondylitis and are trying to decide whether to reduce your drinking — or quit alcohol completely — here are some things to consider.

1. Alcohol May Affect Your Spondylitis Symptoms

People with spondylitis are sometimes concerned about how alcohol will affect their symptoms, like back and joint pain. The experience likely differs among individuals, but one member of MySpondylitisTeam noted worse pain: “Alcohol increased my blood pressure and my pain.”

Spondylitis causes inflammation and pain in the spine, back, and hips. A 2010 study found that chronic alcohol consumption can lead to systemic (widespread) inflammation, affect organ functionality, and possibly cause organ damage. It’s therefore possible that drinking alcohol could worsen or affect inflammation from spondylitis.

People with spondylitis have a higher risk of osteoporosis, a condition that causes bones to become weak. Alcohol can increase the risk of developing weakened bones, especially if you consume more than two drinks per day. Drinking alcohol may further increase the risk of weakened bones, osteoporosis, and effects like fractures in people with spondylitis.

2. Alcohol May Influence Your Spondylitis Disease Progression

Spondylitis is a condition that may get worse over time. Research studies have found a connection between drinking alcohol and the progression of spinal damage in people with spondylitis. A two-year-long cohort study of people with axial spondyloarthritis found that those who drank alcohol had significantly more progression of spinal damage compared with those who didn’t drink alcohol.

3. Alcohol Can Interact With Spondylitis Medications

According to the Spondylitis Association of America, alcohol can interact with spondylitis medications, intensifying the effects of some and making others ineffective. For example, drinking alcohol while taking methotrexate is not advised, as it increases the risk of liver damage.

Additionally, research has found that drinking alcohol while taking nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) — such as over-the-counter medications like ibuprofen (Advil) — can increase your risk of developing bleeding ulcers. Side effects of combining alcohol and NSAIDs range from mild to severe, depending on how much you drink and other potential risk factors.

Ask your rheumatologist whether it’s safe for you to drink alcohol with your spondylitis medications. Rheumatology experts familiar with your treatment plan, alcohol intake, and risk of side effects are the most qualified to provide you with medical advice about drinking alcohol while living with spondylitis.

4. Alcohol Can Increase Your Risk of Developing Other Health Conditions

Moderate alcohol consumption poses a risk of developing other chronic conditions, such as cardiovascular disease, liver disease, stroke, and pancreatitis. It can also increase the risk of different types of cancer. Alcohol has been identified as a cause of head and neck, esophagus, liver, colon, and breast cancer.

“I had cirrhosis of the liver [chronic liver damage] from alcohol,” shared one MySpondylitisTeam member. “I quit drinking and everything got better … 36 going on 37 years without drinking now.”

When It Comes to Alcohol Consumption and Spondylitis, Listen to Your Body

The most important thing to remember is to listen to your body. Be vigilant about monitoring how you feel. Be sure to let your doctor know if you experience stomach pain or heartburn, which may indicate gastrointestinal irritation. Get your liver enzymes tested regularly, and ask your rheumatologist any questions you have about your drinking habits.

Reducing or eliminating alcohol consumption can be a difficult endeavor. Be patient with yourself as you make lifestyle adjustments. Whether your goal is to improve your quality of life by drinking less alcohol or stopping entirely, it’s important to have a support system around you as you make these changes.

Get Support Today

MySpondylitisTeam is the social network for people with spondylitis and their loved ones. More than 88,000 members come together to ask questions, give advice, and share their stories with others who understand life with spondylitis.

How has alcohol affected your spondylitis? Have you changed your drinking habits or quit drinking after your spondylitis diagnosis? Share your experiences in the comments below, or start the conversation by posting on MySpondylitisTeam.

    Updated on October 25, 2022
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    Diane M. Horowitz, M.D. is an internal medicine and rheumatology specialist. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network. Learn more about her here.
    Anika Brahmbhatt is an undergraduate student at Boston University, where she is pursuing a dual degree in media science and psychology. Learn more about her here.

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