treating dehydration

Dehydration headaches are a common occurrence. Fortunately, they are easy to treat. Avoid a dehydration headache – or fix one – with this handy guide.

Why does Dehydration Cause Headaches?

If you have ever wondered if dehydration can cause headaches, the answer is a resounding yes. Dehydration headaches occur when the amount of water in your body is depleted. Many factors contribute to dehydration, including exposure to hot weather, exercise, not drinking enough water, and sweating. Certain medications can also make it easier to become dehydrated, such as in the case of diuretics. Having a cold, the flu or another kind of illness can also contribute to depleting your body’s reserves.


Your cells need a base amount of fluid for normal function. Keeping this in mind, dehydration causes the cells in your tissues to shrink, including around your brain. When this happens, your brain actually pulls away from the interior of your skull, stimulating pain receptors and leading to a headache.

Dehydration headaches can be a mild inconvenience for some people while they can trigger migraines in others.

The Symptoms of Dehydration Headaches

Dehydration headaches affect people in different ways. They can occur in a single part of your head or be uncomfortable all over, which makes them easily mistakable for other types of headaches. However, dehydration headaches do not typically affect your sinuses like a sinus headache or the back of your head, such as in the case of a tension headache.

A dehydration headache is likely the source of your discomfort when paired with additional symptoms as listed below.

The symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Dark color to your urine
  • Infrequent urination
  • Unexplained fatigue or lethargy
  • Extreme thirst
  • Dry mouth
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • High blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate
  • Dry skin
  • Nausea

When left untreated, severe dehydration can lead to hospitalization. Taking steps to avoid dehydration can help you prevent not only a terrible headache, but a visit to urgent care as well.

The symptoms of severe dehydration are the same as above, but also include:

  • Delirium
  • Fever
  • Sunken eyes
  • Lack of sweating

How to Prevent a Dehydration Headache

Dehydration as a cause of headachesPreventing a dehydration headache is easy; all you need to do is stay hydrated. The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that adult males drink about 15.5 cups of water a day while adult women drink approximately 11.5 cups of water per day. Of course, you’ll need to make adjustments if you are very active or exercise.

In addition to drinking water, you can avoid becoming dehydrated by:

  • If you’re going out for the day, bring a water bottle, especially if the weather is hot and you expect to sweat.
  • Eat regularly. You get more fluids than you think from your food. Fruits and vegetables are especially valuable when it comes to keeping your body well-hydrated and headache-free.
  • Hydrate before you work out, and regularly throughout your session. You can prevent damage to your tissues and muscles, improve your performance, and keep those pesky headaches away by reaching for your water bottle on the regular.

Certain groups are at a higher risk of developing dehydration than others, including:

  • Children
  • The elderly
  • People with illnesses (chronic or acute)
  • Athletes
  • People on certain medications (eg diuretics)
  • People who live in hot climates

People in these categories are recommended to take extra steps to avoid dehydration, and by proxy, dehydration headaches.

Treating a Dehydration Headache

man getting iv at homeIf you already have a dehydration headache, don’t fret. These types of headaches are easy to correct. Grabbing a bottle of water is the easiest way to get back on the right track. Taking a pain reliever can help mitigate symptoms while your body rebalances.

In addition to drinking water, you can accelerate your recovery by:

  • Eating: The food you eat can help you rehydrate more quickly, especially high-water content food such as cucumbers, greens, and fruits. Avoid high-sodium snacks like chips or pretzels until you’ve fully rehydrated, as the added sodium can slow down your headache relief.
  • Staying out of the sun for a while: If you’ve been outside for a while, take a break and head indoors or sit in the shade. Sweating may help you stay naturally cool, but it also takes away from your body’s water reserves.
  • Taking a break from exercising: Just like spending time in the sun, exercise causes you to sweat and throw your body out of balance. Take some time to rehydrate before you get back to the treadmill; you’ll feel better and perform better if you do.
  • Avoiding caffeine and alcohol: Until you’ve kicked your headache symptoms, avoid caffeine and alcohol, as both of these beverages will dehydrate you further.
  • Ordering a Hydration IV: A Hydration IV is a quick way to replenish your body’s water reserves and bring you immediate relief from your dehydration headache.

Get Rid of Dehydration

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