Nearly everyone gets a headache at some point in their life. But what about those times when you feel like you’re getting a headache and you realize you might not have had enough liquids throughout the day? These are called “dehydration headaches.” While you might think headaches caused by dehydration are rare, the truth is that nearly everyone gets dehydrated now and then.
And, as a result, they often get headaches.
A small survey published in the medical journal Headache found that among the people interviewed, one in 10 reported experiencing a dehydration headache. They described their head pain as aching that worsened with movement.
Those participating in the survey responded that they felt full relief 30 minutes to three hours after drinking water.
Why Does Dehydration Cause Headaches?
The reason dehydration causes headaches has been debated for years. Some believe that dehydration makes the blood vessels in the brain swell, which can cause pressure on nerves, leading to pain. Others say that dehydration leads to low blood pressure, which can lead to headaches. Still others believe that dehydration leads to an increase in body temperature, which can also contribute to headaches.
But there’s another theory: The brain actually likes to be dehydrated. It uses up more energy than usual when it’s dehydrated, so it needs extra fuel to function properly. This means that if you don’t drink enough fluids, your brain will have less energy available to do its job. And without enough energy, it may not be able to perform at peak levels. So while it might seem counterintuitive, dehydration could actually make your brain work harder, causing headaches.
How to Stay Hydrated
Dehydration happens when we lose too much fluid through our skin (via sweat) or urine. We usually know we’re thirsty because we start feeling dry mouth, but we often forget to drink enough fluids.
If you want to avoid dehydration, the No. 1 tip is simple: drink water. Seems pretty easy, right? But how much do you actually drink? A good rule of thumb is to drink half your body weight in ounces of water a day. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academies recommends that adult women consume 2.7 liters (91 ounces or 11 cups) of water per day. Adult men should drink 3.7 liters (125 ounces or 15 cups).
But what if you don’t “like” water? Many people report not loving drinking water and choose other beverages instead. Here’s our suggestion for getting plenty of water each day:
- Add sugar-free flavor drops/packets
- Add ice cubes
- Infuse fresh fruit such as lemons and strawberries
- Try herbs such as mint and basil with your fruit infusions
- Get an app for your phone or watch to remind you to drink throughout the day
- Get a fun water bottle
Note, you can also get water by eating fluid-rich foods like watermelon and other fruits and vegetables.
Drinks That Dehydrate
Aren’t other beverages as good as water for hydration? Well, no, not really. While other beverages may have water in their list of ingredients, they can actually be dehydrating. These drinks include coffee, tea, soda and energy drinks.
Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it increases the amount of urine produced by the kidneys. Caffeinated drinks like coffee, tea and soda are therefore dehydrating. If you just have to have these drinks, stick to decaf versions.
Soda contains phosphoric acid, which is a mineral that helps the body absorb nutrients from food. However, it also acts like a laxative, flushing out minerals from the body. As a result, it can deplete the body of important minerals and hydration.
Energy drinks contain high amounts of caffeine and sugar. They also contain artificial sweeteners, which can disrupt normal metabolism. Plus, they often contain large amounts of alcohol sugars.
Sports drinks can help hydrate you, but be careful not to overdo them. They often have high levels of potassium, which can cause health issues in large doses. We recommend that you cut them with water to increase your water intake.
What About Alcohol?
Alcohol can also dehydrate you. This is because it is a diuretic, which means it promotes water loss by making you pee. Scientifically speaking, alcohol inhibits your body’s production of a hormone called vasopressin, which plays a large role in urination.
This is also why you often wake up with mild dehydration and a headache after imbibing a few beverages the night before. If you’re going to drink, we recommend that you increase your water intake by drinking water along with your beer, wine or mixed drinks.
Can Dehydration Cause Migraines?
The answer is yes! In fact, many experts believe that dehydration is one of the most common causes of migraines. When you’re dehydrated, your blood volume decreases, putting pressure on your arteries. Arteries are where blood flows into the brain, so when they’re under pressure, they constrict. This makes it difficult for blood to flow into the brain, which leads to pain.
Dehydration can also lead to fatigue, dizziness, nausea, vomiting and even fainting. It’s important to stay well hydrated during migraine attacks, especially if you experience any of these symptoms.
How Do I Know If I’m Dehydrated?
You might notice some signs of dehydration before you feel thirsty. For example, you could have the symptoms of dehydration, such as headache or feeling tired, lightheaded, weak or nauseous. Your skin will look dry and pale. You’ll probably want to drink more than usual.
If you’re feeling thirsty but aren’t sure whether you need to drink more, try asking yourself the following questions:
- Do I feel hungry?
- Does my mouth feel dry?
- Are my lips chapped?
- Do I have a headache?
- Do I feel dizzy?
- Do I feel weak?
- Do I have trouble concentrating?
- Do I feel nauseated?
- Do I feel faint?
- Do I have diarrhea?
- Do I have dark circles under my eyes?
- Do I have swollen feet?
- Do I have a fever?
- Do I have muscle aches?
- Do I have a sore throat?
- Do I have decreased urine output?
If you’re experiencing these symptoms, think about your water intake.
If you’re experiencing headaches regularly, we’d love to talk. Schedule a consultation with us now.