Is dehydration the cause of your headaches?

February 3, 2021

dehydration headachesMost likely, you have had a headache at some point in your life. If so, you’re not alone, as 9 out of 10 people will experience a headache at some point. They are not always a major problem, often accompanying colds, the flu, sinus problems, or other common conditions. But headaches may also be a sign of a larger problem. 

One culprit that can cause chronic headaches is dehydration. Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluids than you put in, and the body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions. 

While you may need an official diagnosis, dehydration headaches can be easily treated and avoided if you know the signs, symptoms, and what to do about it.

Causes, signs & symptoms of dehydration headaches

The body requires the proper balance of fluid and electrolytes to function properly. Every day, your body loses water through daily activities, such as sweating and urinating, and typically you make up for that loss naturally with the foods you eat and fluids you drink. But sometimes, this balance can get out of whack due to diarrhea, vomiting, fever, or extreme sweating.

An imbalance of fluid and electrolytes in the body can result in a dehydration headache. When your body is dehydrated, your brain may temporarily contract or shrink from fluid loss. This causes the brain to pull away from the skull, causing pain and resulting in a headache. Once rehydrated, the brain plumps up and returns to its normal state, relieving the discomfort.

The headaches can be relatively mild or as severe as a migraine, and the pain may occur at the front, back, side, or all over the head. Typically, there is no facial pain or pressure, and there is not often pain in the back of the neck.

Since dehydration headaches only occur when the body is dehydrated, other symptoms of dehydration will occur with the headache. These symptoms may include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Reduced urination
  • Dark colored urine
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fatigue
  • Dry, sticky mouth
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Low blood pressure
  • Increased heart rate

Avoiding & treating dehydration headaches

To treat a dehydration headache, addressing both the pain and the dehydration is the best approach. If you already have a dehydration headache, you should increase your fluid intake by drinking water and a sports drink to replace electrolytes. You should also decrease your physical activity and avoid heat to reduce sweating.

While these measures may help relieve a dehydration headache, the best line of defense is to prevent them from occurring at all. Of course, this means preventing dehydration through the following measures:

  1. Drink enough fluids throughout the day — Most people need between 4 and 6 cups of water per day, although some may need more or less. Spreading out the amount of fluid consumed rather than drinking it all at once helps keep the body better hydrated.
  2. Eat fluid-rich foods — This includes fruits and vegetables, such as cucumbers and watermelon, that have a high water content.
  3. Hydrate more during exercise and hot weather — If you are sweating heavily during exercise or exposure to hot weather, your water needs increase. Drink more during these times to replenish the extra fluids you are losing through sweat.
  4. Treat underlying causes of dehydration — Fevers and infections can cause the body to lose more fluid than normal, so the cause of those conditions should be addressed in addition to taking steps to prevent dehydration. 
  5. Avoid caffeinated beverages and alcohol — Caffeine and alcohol can both increase urine output, leading to a higher risk of dehydration.
  6. Reduce strenuous activity — If you are in the heat or not feeling well, take it easy to avoid losing unnecessary fluids. 

Following this advice should help prevent dehydration, and therefore, dehydration headaches. However, if you continue to experience chronic headaches, whether they are a result of dehydration or other issues, you should consult with a doctor, such as the ones at Southside Pain Specialists, to find and treat the underlying condition. 

Find out the cause of your headaches and learn how to prevent them by scheduling an appointment at Southside Pain Specialists

With highly specialized training and a multitude of pain relief options, Southside Pain Specialists follow the standards of the American Society of Interventional Pain Physicians, The American Board of Pain Medicine, and the International Spinal Injection Society. We work hard to provide patients with comprehensive, caring pain relief when they need it most. Check out our website or contact us today at 205.332.3155 to learn more.