Dehydration Symptoms, Causes, and Treatments

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How to Tell If You're Dehydrated

Photo by Haley Read

Did you know that the majority of Americans are chronically, mildly dehydrated? Here’s are the dehydration symptoms you should look out for. Does this include you?

First, What Is Dehydration?

Dehydration is when your body doesn’t have as much water as it needs to function at its best. Mild dehydration may cause you to have a headache and yellower urine. On the other hand, severe hydration may cause you to faint and need to be hospitalized to replace lost fluids.

Causes of Dehydration

The biggest cause of dehydration is not drinking enough water. Your body gets dehydrated when you lose more fluid than you drink, and the most common way to lose fluid is by sweating. So if you’re sweating, you need to be drinking water at the same time. Average, non-active folks only need to drink eight cups of water per day. Someone who sweats more than average, like athletes or people with labor-intensive jobs, should be drinking more than eight cups of water per day to avoid the symptoms of dehydrated.

Dehydration Symptoms

Color of urine

Pale yellow is the goal. If it’s dark yellow or you can’t remember the last time you peed, you need to drink more fluids.

Headaches, tiredness, or irritability

As stated in a University of Florida Health podcast: “Many people think that if they feel weak, tired or suffer from headaches they need to eat. More likely, water is the solution — and remember, if you’re thirsty, your body is already complaining. You’re already dehydrated.”

Even mild dehydration can cause moodiness and irritability, which may be difficult to pinpoint, but it’s usually followed by feelings of tiredness.

Bad Breath

We can’t make enough salvia if we’re dehydrated. To put it simply, too little water means too little saliva, which causes a bacterial overgrowth in your mouth and stinky breath. But don’t fret, more water can help bad breath disappear forever.

Your skin is thirsty

Do a quick skin test. On the back of your hand, use two fingers and pull up half an inch of skin, anywhere from where a watch would sit to where your fingers start. Your skin should bounce back asap. If it doesn’t, dehydration may be upon you.

Check your caffeine and alcohol intake

A lot of us may live in a constant state of mild dehydration, especially because drinking caffeine and alcohol can worsen dehydration symptoms.

Water is the best thing to drink to stay hydrated… and carrying a refillable bottle is a great way to make sure water is always accessible.”

Subscribing to a water delivery service, like hint®, is another great way to ensure you always have water available, especially water that’s satisfying to drink.

Constipation

Staying hydrated helps everything (and we mean everything!) moving along as it should. If you’re having a hard time going to the bathroom, drinking ample water will help you flush that toilet sooner.

Thirst

Although using thirst as a benchmark for dehydration in endurance athletics isn’t advised, for everyday life, thirst is a simple and effective judge. If your mouth is dry and you find yourself craving something, but you can’t put your finger on it, try drinking water.

All too often we mistake thirst for hunger when really we just need to drink more.

How to Treat Dehydration

Know you know how to spot dehydration symptoms. But what do you do about it once you know it’s happened? Do these seven things immediately if you’re dehydrated.

Stop What You’re Doing

If you’re in the midst of an activity such as running, hiking, or bicycling and you begin to feel dehydrated you should stop right away. Continuing to exercise can elevate the body’s temperature and worsen symptoms of dehydration and lead to more serious problems. So help your body cool down by taking a break. You may even want to lie down to prevent more exertion than absolutely necessary.

Seek Shelter

Immediately remove yourself from direct sunlight and find a cool, shady spot. This will help your body cool down and more easily regulate its temperature.

Remove Extra Clothing

It’s important to remove any unnecessary, excess layers so that your body can more effectively regulate its temperature.

Put Your Feet Up

Elevating your feet when you’re dehydrated increases blood flow and concentrates the flow of blood to the body’s core and head. This can help bring your body’s temperature down and may also reduce the risk of circulatory shock.

Cool Your Body Down

The best way to cool your body down when you’re dehydrated is to spray yourself with lukewarm water. We know—it sounds counterintuitive. But using cold ice packs or ice water can actually cause your blood vessels to constrict, which limits the body’s ability to release heat.

Drink Fluids

This is probably the most obvious one but it’s more complicated than just pounding water. When you’re dehydrated, you may have also depleted your body’s store of electrolytes—or different types of salts—which the body secretes when it sweats. That’s why it’s important to drink fluids that contain electrolytes, as well as regular water or hint® water. Instead of sports beverages which are notoriously high in sugar, adults can drink clear broth. When you’re rehydrating, monitor the speed of your fluid intake, as drinking too much too quickly can make you feel sick.

Eat Fruits and Vegetables

Dehydration can make some people feel nauseous, in which case you’ll likely want to avoid food. But if you don’t feel queasy, eat fruits and vegetables with high water content. This includes fruits like watermelons, strawberries, tomatoes, and grapefruit, as well as vegetables like cucumbers, lettuce, spinach, and celery.

How to Stay Hydrated

On an average day, you should drink at least 1.5 liters of water (almost four bottles of hint® water) as a baseline. If you’re not already drinking this much water, try adopting a water-drinking plan.

But, if you exercise regularly or you live in a hot and humid environment, you have to drink more water. You sweat more in these types of environments, which makes you lose hydration. The 1.5 liters per day recommendation doesn’t take hot weather or exercise into account.

An hour of exercise in the heat requires at least another liter (50 ounces) of water. This isn’t a small amount. Remember that one standard 16-ounce water bottle is not going to hydrate you enough for an hour-long spin class or a 40-minute jog outside.

This Morning Habit Keeps You Hydrated

One of the best habits you can develop is hydrating from the moment you wake up, and I don’t just mean with coffee. I like to start my days with coffee, but also at least 20 ounces of water. I’ve noticed that my workouts are better when I start hydrated, and I’m able to recover better with less lingering muscle soreness.

Experts agree with the importance of morning H20. Louisville-based Dr. John Mandrola, who specializes in cardiac electrophysiology and also happens to be a cyclist, told The Greatist:

“Not enough summer exercisers start the workout topped off. Before I leave for a bike ride in the summer, I usually chug an entire bottle of water. Again, it’s hard to drink that much fluid, but when going out in the heat for a few hours, your body will thank you. One negative side effect: an early pee stop.”

As the mercury rises this summer, make sure you give your cells what their craving: water.

Want to make sure you’re always stocked with water? Subscribe to hint® and have it delivered as often as you need.


About the Author

Clare Gallagher is an ultrarunner for The North Face and travels extensively for races and philanthropic work. She studied coral ecology at Princeton University where she also ran cross country and track. Clare has taught English in Thailand where she started a non-profit environmental stewardship program, she has scribed in emergency rooms across Denver, and she writes regularly for various running blogs.


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