Dehydration does more than just make you thirsty—it can actually be quite dangerous to your health. Here's how to know when your body is telling you to drink more water, so that you don't let it get to the later stages of dehydration.
In general, dehydration occurs when your body loses too much fluid, or more fluid than it's taking in, according to the US National Library of Medicine's resource MedlinePlus.
You can become dehydrated for a number of reasons, but the main culprits include: diarrhea, vomiting, sweating too much, urinating too much, having a fever, or (simply) not drinking enough. And it doesn't take much to become dehydrated: if you lose just 1.5% of the water in your body, you've reached the tipping point of dehydration.
While dehydration often shows up as the standard thirsty feeling, the later stages of the condition can actually lead to a loss of consciousness. Here are some signs to watch for.
Bad Breath: Notice your breath smelling the opposite of minty fresh? It could be because you haven't drunk enough. "Saliva has important antibacterial properties," our local dentist says "When dehydrated, the decreased saliva in the mouth allows bacteria to thrive, resulting in bad breath."
Also, while we're talking about your mouth, dehydration can cause it to feel dry, for obvious reasons. So, drink up for your own sake—and for the people around you, too.
Sugar Cravings: Dehydration can mask itself as hunger, or more specifically as sugar cravings. This is more likely to happen if you've been exercising. When you exercise in a dehydrated state, you use glycogen, or stored carbohydrates, at a faster rate, thus diminishing your stores more quickly. Once you finish exercising, you will likely crave carbs (aka sugar) to help you replenish those glycogen levels. Pro tip: Before reaching for a chocolate bar, drink a tall glass of water and wait five minutes. You might not be as hungry as you think. (After that, if you're still craving something sweet, go ahead and have it. Healthy carbs, of course)
Dry Skin: Your skin will let you know if you haven't been drinking enough water. Dehydrated skin will feel tight and appear dull when you look in the mirror. You may even notice more exaggerated wrinkles or darker-than-usual under eye circles and dry or peeling skin.
A quick test if you're feeling less than hydrated: Pinch your check; if it wrinkles with gentle pressure instead of holding its shape, it's begging you for water. For smooth, moisture-rich skin, keep showers short (less than five minutes) and use only lukewarm water, as hot water can dry your skin out even more.
Feeling Tired: That mid-afternoon slump may have more to do with dehydration than you think. A number of the symptoms of dehydration can make you feel sleepy. Physical tasks may also feel more difficult and tiring because your muscles are lacking H2O, which is necessary for them to function properly.
Feeling Irritable: If you're feeling cranky, drink a glass of water and your mood may change. Neurological effects of dehydration can cause irritability. A small 2011 study published in the Journal of Nutrition tested mood and concentration in 25 young women who were either given enough fluids to remain properly hydrated, or who became mildly dehydrated by taking diuretics and exercising.
Chills: It may seem counterintuitive, but dehydration can bring on chills. This occurs because your body starts to limit blood flow to the skin. In addition, water holds heat, so if you become hydrated it can be more difficult to regulate your body temperature, which can make you get chilly faster, even when you're not in a cold environment.
Muscle Cramps: Dehydration is responsible for cramp as it alters the balance of electrolytes. It is the ratio of electrolytes like sodium, calcium and potassium, along with the amount of water in your system, that is responsible for keeping your muscles functional.
When you become dehydrated and that ratio is skewed, you can end up experiencing cramping and spasming which can be very painful. This is especially common at night, following exercise and especially when swimming – all times when you are likely to be dehydrated!
The best way to solve this problem is with an isotonic drink – that’s a drink that has the exact same balance of electrolytes and water as is found in human blood.
Foggy Brain: Along with your muscles, your brain also gets less blood circulation when you're low on water, which can make you dizzy,—and this can constitute a situation when dehydration can warrant medical attention.
Headaches: Dehydration can cause headaches in a couple of different ways. Lack of water affects your body's serotonin levels, which can give you headaches. In addition, small blood vessels in the brain respond quickly to hydration levels (which is also the culprit behind those nasty hangover headaches), leading to dull aches and even full-blown migraines.
Try downing a glass or two of water the next time you have a headache and you may find it disappears. You could also eat fruit, which contains a lot of water.
Constipation: Your body needs water to keep things moving through your colon. When you're not getting enough H2O, your body compensates by withdrawing more fluid from stool, making it harder and more difficult to pass. That said, it's worth noting that drinking more water when you're already properly hydrated won't necessarily relieve constipation caused by other factors, like the medications you're taking, medical conditions, or a lack of fiber in your diet.
Dark Colored urine: One telltale sign of dehydration is dark yellow urine. When you're dehydrated, your kidneys, which filter waste, tell your body to retain water. That means you'll have less water in your urine, causing it to become more concentrated with waste products and, therefore, darker. If you notice your urine is darker than usual, reach for your water bottle.
Really Thirsty: It might seem obvious, but being thirsty is a big hint that you're not as hydrated as you should be. When you get dehydrated, you'll naturally be thirsty, so listen to your body's signals and rehydrate until you've quenched your thirst. As we get older, we do not recognize that we are thirsty. Make sure you drink enough water every day so that you do not become dehydrated.
Low Blood pressure: While not drinking enough water can cause a plethora of symptoms, one in particular, low blood pressure, can be especially dangerous, Eric Goldberg, MD, an internal medicine physician at NYU Langone tells us. But low blood pressure can manifest in a few different ways, including nausea, dizziness, and blurred vision, so it's important to be aware of those, as many of us don't have blood pressure cuffs at home.
Low blood pressure can be especially dangerous, as it means your blood isn't getting properly sent to critical organs, including your brain, Dr. Goldberg adds. Certain blood pressure medications act as diuretics, which make the body urinate fluid out of it much faster. People who take these medications are more susceptible to becoming dehydrated, per Dr. Goldberg. The good news? "Most people can fix that simply by drinking water," he explains.
How much should we drink every day? A good guideline is to take your weight in pounds and divide in half. That is the number of ounces to drink on a normal day. If you are sweating a lot or have a fever, drink more than the normal amount. Example: 130 pounds is 65 ounces.
10 Ways to drink more water:
1. Start your day with a glass of water before you start your day. Add lemon to aide digestion.
2. Drink herbal tea all day. Hot or cold. Lots of health benefits.
3. Add lemon, lime, grapefruit to your water for flavor.
4. Drink less coffee as caffeine dehydrates us.
5. Fill up a jug and let it stand on the counter or at your desk where it is visible. Add ice if needed.
6. Attach a water bottle to your hip, in your car, at your desk.
7. Drink water before you eat. It helps you feel full and you won’t eat as much.
8. Dilute down other beverages like fruit juice as they contain way too much sugar when drinking by itself.
9. Drink water socially. Drink a glass of wine and then a glass of water. It decreases the rate of alcohol absorption so you won’t end up with a hangover.
10. Eat foods with hydration benefits. Watermelon, grapes, celery, oranges, tomatoes are all water rich foods.
Want more health tips? Sign up for my FREE Discovery Session. Click the link here: Schedule Your Session