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Can Dehydration Cause Your Headaches?

Published on 25th February 2021
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Headaches develop for a reason. It could be due to the flu, a cold, neck muscle strain, reactions to food chemicals, vigorous activity and more.
Can Dehydration Cause Your Headaches?
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can dehydration cause your headaches

Table of Contents

  1. Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?
  2. Typical Symptoms of Dehydration
  3. Common Questions About Dehydration Headaches
  4. Headache Symptoms
  5. Preventing Dehydration

Headaches develop for a reason. It could be due to the flu, a cold, neck muscle strain, reactions to food chemicals, vigorous activity and more. Can lack of water cause headaches? The answer is “yes.” Some headaches develop because the body does not have enough fluid. These are called dehydration headaches.

Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?

People often get dehydrated and are not even fully aware dehydration has developed. Dehydration occurs when the body is not getting enough water or other fluids to function normally. Anyone can get dehydrated, and it develops due to one or more causes that include the following.

  • Get busy and forget to drink fluids throughout the day
  • Vigorous activity that causes heavy sweating, like participating in sports or hiking
  • Working outside in the heat or sun
  • Illness causing a high fever
  • Diarrhea and/or vomiting
  • Medications causing frequent urination
  • Chronic disease like diabetes that overwork the organs and force fluid from tissues

Most people will experience dehydration periodically throughout their lifetime. This is despite the fact it is easy to prevent in most cases.

can dehydration cause your headaches 2

Typical Symptoms of Dehydration

Dehydration is not like an injury. It develops as the body loses fluids, so it can happen slowly or quickly. Some of the common symptoms in adults include the following.

  • Extreme thirst
  • Urine that is dark or amber-colored
  • Less frequent urination
  • Constipation
  • Migraine headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Mental confusion
  • General weakness
  • Dry cool skin
  • Dry mouth
  • Tongue swelling
  • Fatigue

These are common symptoms of dehydration that you can quickly treat by drinking water or a sports drink with electrolytes. Sometimes, people get severely dehydrated, and a new set of symptoms appear.

Common Questions About Dehydration Headaches

Severe dehydration is when there is a loss of more than 10 percent of body weight due to fluid loss. The stress placed on the body can lead to serious problems.

  • Can dehydration cause high blood pressure? 

People who experience chronic dehydration commonly have high blood pressure (hypertension). The lack of water in the body’s cells triggers the secretion of vasopressin by the pituitary gland. The chemical constricts blood vessels which causes blood pressure to rise.

Also, dehydration means the kidneys are producing a lower amount of urine which causes the heart and brain capillaries to constrict. This too leads to high blood pressure.

Dehydration also has the potential to produce low blood pressure (hypotension). Blood volume decreases due to low fluids, once again impacting the organs.

  • Can dehydration cause dizziness? 

Related to high and low blood pressure is experiencing dizziness. Severe dehydration can lead to symptoms like dizziness or vertigo. Dizziness refers to feeling lightheaded and unsteady. Vertigo is a sensation in which you feel like your surroundings are spinning, making you sway or experience a floating feeling.

High blood pressure related dizziness is due to the constriction of the brain’s capillaries. Low blood pressure-related dizziness is due to the organs, including the brain, not getting enough oxygen and nutrients.

  • Can dehydration cause migraines? 

The American Migraine Foundation says that one-third (1/3) of people experiencing a migraine indicate dehydration is a trigger. In fact, it does not have to be severe dehydration to initiate a dehydration migraine.

Headache Symptoms

The dehydration headache usually feels different than a sinus headache because it is not due to pressure. Often, the headache is experienced as a pulsating ache on both sides of the head. However, the dehydration headache location can be anywhere on the head – front, side, back, or general all-over pain. The dehydration headache is confined to the head, unlike a sinus headache that may be accompanied by face swelling.

A migraine headache is often experienced as a severe pulsing sensation or a throbbing pain on one side of the head. It is usually more intense and more painful than a dehydration headache.

Telling the difference between a dehydration headache and a migraine headache is usually based on the presence of other symptoms. For example, a dehydration headache is accompanied by extreme thirst and dark urine. The migraine headache causes sensitivity to sound and light and flashes of light called auras.

Preventing Dehydration

preventing dehydration

Many websites claim that 75 percent of Americans are chronically dehydrated, but this number is not supported by medical research. What is known is that 17-28 percent of older U.S. adults experience dehydration.

Dehydration is easily preventable and treatable. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine says that women need an average of 91 ounces of water per day, and men need 125 ounces daily. Water consumption does not have to mean drinking 11 or more 8-ounce cups of water. You can get fluid from food, especially fruits and vegetables, and other beverages like juice and milk.

Sources

  1. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/diabetes/in-depth/diabetes-symptoms/art-20044248
  2. https://headaches.org/2016/07/07/headaches-and-dehydration/
  3. https://www.webmd.com/a-to-z-guides/dehydration-adults#1
  4. https://www.medicalwesthospital.org/the-dangers-of-dehydration.php
  5. https://americanmigrainefoundation.org/resource-library/top-10-migraine-triggers/
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK555956/
  7. https://www.nationalacademies.org/news/2004/02/report-sets-dietary-intake-levels-for-water-salt-and-potassium-to-maintain-health-and-reduce-chronic-disease-risk

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