Have you experienced headaches when you don’t drink enough water? You likely have suffered a dehydration headache. Surprised?? Well, you needn’t be. Dehydration is one of the lesser-known causes of headaches.
Hangover headaches are an example of this condition. Excess alcohol dehydrates you, resulting in pain in the head region.
So, what causes dehydration headaches? Is there a way to identify them? And what helps alleviate the pain?
We discuss these and more aspects of this oft-overlooked cause of headaches in this article. We explain why you should stay hydrated for relief from headaches.
Having one right now??, Sip small amounts of water, or have some coconut water if available, or you can quickly make an electrolyte drink at home and have it for instant relief.
At the end of the article, we have listed the remedies (which work) to keep these headaches at bay and help you stay hydrated. So, for more remedies, read on!!
What is a dehydration headache?
Dehydration headache happens when your body experiences an imbalance of fluids. This fluid balance is extremely essential for the proper functioning of your body.
We drink water as a habit when we feel thirsty without understanding the significance of what happens.
Your digestive system absorbs this water which allows your body to carry out various vital activities. Hydration is the process by which your body absorbs these water and fluids for effective functioning. Water maintains homeostasis, body temperature, and protects organs such as the heart, brain, muscles, joints, etc.
Proper input and output of water ensure fluid balance. A disruption in this balance can manifest in various forms, one of the symptoms being headaches due to dehydration.
These headaches can occur in people of any age, from kids to adults, to older people. The elderly have a lower thirst perception. For this reason, they experience increased reduced fluid balance and can suffer dehydration headaches more frequently.
These headaches can occur in any part of your head such as the forehead, the back part of your head, sometimes even extending up to the neck. Some people experience milder headaches, while for others it can be as severe as a migraine.
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Why does dehydration cause headaches?
To understand the connection between dehydration and headaches, let us first understand what happens when you are dehydrated.
As you know, nearly 70% of the human body is composed of water. This water in the form of fluids, can be found in blood, various organs, within cells (intracellular fluid), and in between cells (extracellular fluid). Fluids are also present in tissues, muscles, and nerves.
When you experience dehydration, you are essentially going through a fluid loss and electrolyte imbalance. This loss happens in the blood vessels present in your brain as well. When this happens the blood vessels shrink, causing your brain to shrink as well. Your brain pulls away from the skull and causes you to experience pain in the head.
How to identify a headache due to dehydration:
Headaches due to dehydration are no different from your regular headaches. They can occur anywhere – the front part of your head, the rear part, the sides, and sometimes, all over your head.
These headaches, in some cases, mimic a hangover headache, where you will experience pulsating pain. Such headaches increase with physical activity.
So, how to identify dehydration headaches?
The first step is to check if the headaches are accompanied by any other symptoms.
Dehydration or fluid balance can cause one or more of the following conditions:
- Excessive thirst
- Dry Mouth
- Reduced urination
- Dry skin
- Muscle cramping
- Deep-colored and strong-smelling urine
- Uneven heartbeat or arrhythmia
- Faster heartbeat
When you have a headache along with any of the symptoms listed above, you are most likely experiencing a dehydration headache.
A 2016 article published in the “Current research in nutrition and food sciences” states that “hypertonic dehydration leads to neurological changes such as headaches, confusion, decreased urine, and loss of appetite”.
So, what is hypertonic dehydration?
Hypertonic dehydration occurs due to the loss of fluids and salts as well. These salts, also known as electrolytes, are charged particles, and perform various vital activities in your body.
Minerals such as calcium, magnesium, sodium, potassium, and chloride play the role of these electrolytes.
When you are sick, experience excessive nausea, vomiting, or sweating, your body loses these electrolytes along with your body fluids. This condition is known as isotonic dehydration.
Other conditions that can cause this condition include sweating induced by excessive workouts and training, and participation in athletic and training events.
Sportspersons such as runners often depend on electrolyte drinks and sports drinks to avoid dehydration headaches and other related symptoms.
How to treat dehydration headaches?
Headaches due to dehydration should be treated the same way as you treat any other dehydration conditions.
The key is to compensate for the salt and fluid loss. In case of mild to moderate headaches, you can drink water and electrolyte drinks for relief from pain.
Some studies suggest that these headaches can act as a precursor to migraine headaches. So, if you are prone to frequent migraines, staying well-hydrated with the help of hydration fluids such as electrolyte drinks may help reduce the frequency of occurrence.
When experiencing moderate to severe headaches, you can also take the help of over-the-counter painkillers for immediate relief from the pain.
An article “Acute and chronic effects of hydration status on health” published in the journal Nutrition Reviews explains that increased fluid consumption can help relieve certain kinds of headaches.
The key to dehydration headache cure is proper hydration.
So, if you are experiencing headaches, reach for a glass of water before reaching for your painkillers.
How to prevent dehydration headaches?
Prevention is always better than cure. As far as these headaches are concerned, the key is to maintain proper hydration levels.
- Stay hydrated. Drink 6 to 8 glasses of fluids in a day.
- Men should drink about 3.7 liters of fluids while women should drink about 2.7 liters.
- Your fluid intake must include water, electrolyte drinks, and water-rich foods.
- To prevent isotonic dehydration headaches, along with electrolyte drinks, you must also include electrolyte foods in your diet.
- The best way to stay hydrated is by consuming a balanced diet rich in electrolyte foods, whole grains, fresh produce, eggs, lean meat, and milk and milk products.
- If you have underlying conditions such as diabetes, you must ensure extra hydration through a healthy diet and an excess intake of fluids.
Dehydration is one of the common but lesser-known causes of headaches in people of all ages. These occur due to a lack of proper fluid and electrolyte intake. Other causes include loss of fluids due to illness, intense workouts, and excessive sweating.
Electrolyte drinks, water-rich foods and electrolyte foods help overcome headaches due to dehydration. A balanced diet along with a regular intake of water and fluids helps avoid dehydration headaches.