Dehydration Headaches

Dehydration Headache - Causes, Symptoms & Treatment

Are you drinking enough water each day? Whether you are busy and you forget to drink water, or you are sweating a lot and aren’t getting enough fluids, the symptoms of dehydration can start to creep in.

Water is essential for survival! Your body is up to 60% water, which is why hydration is critical for health and wellness. The organs have higher amounts of water compared to other parts of the body: the heart and brain are about 73% water, kidneys are 79% water, and lungs are 73% water.

Each day, you need a certain amount of water for survival. The exact amount required depends on your gender, age, and physical activities. If you aren’t getting enough water, then you might be experiencing symptoms of chronic dehydration throughout the day – although many people aren’t aware of these symptoms.

Why Does Dehydration Cause Headaches?

Dehydration occurs when your body uses more water than what you take in. It can be as simple as forgetting to drink enough water during a typical day. Or, the risk of dehydration increases if you are sweating due to heat or exercise and you don’t replenish the fluids enough.

Additionally, dehydration can happen as a side effect of certain medications, including both over-the-counter products and prescriptions. You might need to drink more water while using those medications or talk to your doctor about adjusting the dosages to avoid dehydration.

Water is critical for many functions in the body, and it can be a serious situation if you aren’t getting enough water. Mild dehydration can lead to a headache because of the changes that happen in the brain.

Dehydration can cause a temporary contraction or shrink in the brain tissue, which can cause a headache to occur. When you rehydrate, then the tissue will plump up again, and you’ll likely experience relief from the headache symptoms.

What Does a Dehydration Headache Feel Like?

When a dehydration headache occurs, it can feel different to different people. Usually, these symptoms are similar to having an everyday headache. For example, it might feel like a pulsing ache, dull pain, or a headache that intensifies with physical activity. Dehydration headaches will worsen when moving your head, walking around, or bending over for most people.

If you are dehydrated, then it’s common for this headache to coincide with other symptoms, such as:

  • Dry mouth
  • Sticky mouth
  • Thirst
  • Muscle cramps
  • Minimal urination output
  • Urine is dark in color
  • Dry, cool skin

In the beginning, a dehydration headache often begins with minor discomfort and symptoms. But some people find that dehydration headaches are a trigger for more severe symptoms, such as migraines. When this happens, the symptoms intensify and might include nausea and severe pain in the cranial region.

Severe dehydration can be dangerous – leading to brain damage or even death, especially for older adults, children, and anyone with a chronic illness. So, it’s essential to pay attention to the early signs of dehydration to avoid these severe issues.

Can Dehydration Headaches Last for Days?

Yes, it’s possible for a dehydration headache to last for days. If you don’t correct the dehydration issues, then the symptoms will linger until you rehydrate. Even after you drink a lot of water, there are times when it takes a little while for the headache to subside.

If you are drinking plenty of water and the headache lasts for days, then it might be a sign that you need to talk to a doctor.

How Do You Get Rid of a Dehydration Headache?

Drinking water is the best treatment to alleviate the pain of a dehydration headache. Most of the time, a tall glass of water can help the headache go away quickly – you’ll likely feel relief within about 30 minutes. Sometimes, it can take as long as three hours for the symptoms to subside.

Here are a few at-home remedies you might consider for a dehydration headache:

  • Drink Water: Drink a glass of water as soon as you can get to clean drinking water. There’s no need to over-hydrate. Most people find relief after drinking one or two glasses of water. Pay attention to your thirst cues to know when you’ve had enough water. In cases of moderate dehydration, drinking too quickly can sometimes cause vomiting – so sip on the water instead of guzzling it. Another option is to suck on ice cubes if the headache is occurring with nausea.
  • Electrolytes: Not only do you need fluids, but often, the body needs electrolytes to rebalance your minerals. Electrolytes are available in the things you drink and the foods you eat. But dehydration can disrupt the balance of electrolytes, especially when you are sweating. Choose a low-sugar sports drink, such as Powerade or Pedialyte, to replenish the electrolytes.
  • Avoid Other Beverages: Did you know that certain drinks can exacerbate dehydration? For example, caffeine can have a diuretic effect that makes dehydration worse. So, skip the soda and coffee if you are trying to get rid of a dehydration headache. Also, it’s best to avoid alcohol during this time.
  • Cold Compress: If you have a pounding headache, try using a cold compress on the forehead to manage the symptoms. For example, a cool, damp washcloth can reduce the pain. Or, you can use a gel ice pack wrapped in a hand towel. Lay down and relax in a dark area for 10 or 15 minutes.
  • Pain Medication: Certain over the counter pain relievers can help to reduce the immediate symptoms. Try taking aspirin, ibuprofen, or acetaminophen. Watch out for medications that contain caffeine. Remember that these medications help to dull the symptoms, and you still need to be proactive about drinking water to rehydrate.

Dehydration Headache Prevention

Do you know that dehydration is an issue that triggers headaches for you? Then be proactive about staying hydrated at all times to prevent the symptoms. Here are a few tips to help:

  • Take water with you everywhere you go. A reusable water bottle is a great way to always have a drink in hand.
  • Add a little fruit juice or a sugar-free mix-in if you don’t like the taste of water. This strategy helps you stay hydrated and cut calories at the same time.
  • Never workout without water. You might use a CamelBak backpack or a wearable holder for water bottles (such as a sports fanny pack).
  • Set a reminder on your phone to drink water. If you forget to drink because you are too busy during the day, then an alarm can be an excellent notification to keep you on track with your hydration goals.
  • Drink a tall glass of water first thing in the morning to help you get ahead of your water needs for the day.

Signs You Need Medical Treatment for Dehydration

Minor and moderate cases of dehydration can be resolved at home. But you shouldn’t hesitate to visit a doctor if you are experiencing signs of severe dehydration. You might need medical treatment if you have any of these symptoms:

  • Lack of urination
  • Very dark urine
  • Rapid breathing and heartbeat
  • Dry skin that loses elasticity
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Confusion
  • Chills and fever
  • Unconsciousness or fainting
  • Seizures

Our team at Rapid Med Urgent Care is ready to help when you need medical care. If you need treatment for dehydration headaches or other conditions, then sign-in now for an in-office visit or an On-Demand virtual telemedicine visit and be seen quickly. We’re here to assist your family with local, caring medical services.

Becki Andrus
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