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What Are the Most Common Side Effects of Dehydration?

If you are trying to stay on track with your health, it is important to stay hydrated. You may not know that dehydration can sneak up on you. Dehydration is something no one should leave prolonged. It can end up happening silently, or it can get more severe and cause unwanted issues with the body. You may be wondering what exactly dehydration is.

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Dehydration is when the body is actively losing more fluids and hydration than it takes in. Not having this in balance can have some major health consequences if left untreated for a long time. Your body is regularly losing water through urine and sweat daily. It is important to replace this water in some way throughout the day. Many are unaware of how important this is. Many people may not even know that they are dehydrated or on the way to it.

Whether in a mild or severe case, it is good to know how to identify the signs and symptoms and then how to treat them properly. In this article, we will look at some common side effects of dehydration and how bad it can get. We will then look into some ways it may be avoided and ways it can be treated effectively.

Some most common signs and symptoms of dehydration

There can be many different signs and symptoms of dehydration. These symptoms can range from mild-moderate to severe. Some people may have one or a combination of these symptoms, if not all of them. Some of these common symptoms of dehydration can be:

Mild to Moderate symptoms

  • Being very thirsty
  • Sweating
  • Urinating less than seems normal
  • Lack of energy
  • Headaches
  • Muscle cramps
  • Irritability

Severe symptoms

  • Feeling dizzy
  • Rarely urinating or dark urine
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Extremely dry skin
  • Rapid breathing
  • Chills or fever
  • Fainting
  • Confusion
A woman drinking from a glass of water

Thirst: The Early Warning System

Your sense of thirst is the first indication that you are dehydrated. It’s essential to take note of how you feel and grab a glass of water or other hydrating fluid.

While most adults can easily avoid mild and moderate dehydration, very young children may have difficulty communicating that they are thirsty.

Elderly individuals may have a decreased sense of thirst, making it challenging for them to identify when they should drink water. For children and the elderly, it’s important to pay attention to additional signs of dehydration, such as fewer wet diapers or decreased visits to the bathroom, lightheadedness, confusion, or unusual fatigue.

Changes in Urine: Color and Frequency

The color of your urine is a reliable way to identify how hydrated you are.

  • Transparent: You are drinking too much water, so hold off on the fluids for a while.
  • Light to medium yellow: The ideal color to look for and indicates optimal hydration.
  • Dark yellow: You are probably slightly dehydrated, so grab something to drink.
  • Orange or brown: You are dehydrated. Make sure to drink water or an oral rehydration solution containing electrolytes.

Most adults can expect to use the bathroom 4 to 10 times per day. If you’re using it less frequently than this and your urine is a dark color, you are probably dehydrated. If you’re using it regularly and your urine is clear, you are overhydrated and should hold off on drinking water for a bit.

Dry skin on hands

Dry or Sticky Mouth, Lips, and Skin

A dry and sticky mouth occurs when you are dehydrated because your body does not have enough fluids to produce enough saliva.

As such, your saliva can become thick and sticky or insufficient to keep your mouth moisturized.

Dehydration can also cause dry lips and skin.

When this happens, your skin does not have enough water to maintain optimal moisture and can become dry, flaky, scaly, and itchy. Dry lips and skin can also be caused by environmental factors such as cold climates or dry air. In these cases, staying hydrated is essential but should be accompanied by lotions, creams, or lip balm to help keep your skin barrier moisturized.

If you are drinking enough water but still experiencing dry mouth, lips, or skin, it’s important to speak to your doctor, as these symptoms may be caused by another condition.

What happens if dehydration is left untreated

If you suspect you may be severely dehydrated, it would be a good idea to consult with a health professional as soon as possible. It is very important to get it resolved if you have dehydration of any kind.

Left untreated, it may get more severe and lead to unpleasant health problems. Some things that can happen if dehydration is left untreated and becomes severe are seizures, brain damage, and even death.

How to avoid dehydration

Avoiding dehydration is important. Be sure to make healthy choices. You can easily avoid dehydration just by taking a few precautions in your life. Take precautions such as:

  • Dressing in light, cool clothes in the hotter summer months
  • Avoid being in direct sunlight in the summer months.
  • Drink the recommended amount of fluids, especially water, every single day. The recommended amount is typically half of your body weight in ounces per day.
  • If you’re sick, increase your fluid intake if possible.
  • If exercising or participating in a physical sport, increase fluid and water intake, especially before and after activity. Drinking electrolytes help as well during any kind of physical activity that makes you sweat.
  • Avoid certain foods and drinks such as coffee, alcohol, and salty foods. If you indulge in these or similar foods or drinks while already dehydrated, they can further dehydrate you and make it even worse. Choose hydrating foods and drinks instead. We will go over what some of those are later on.

Impact of Chronic Dehydration

Chronic dehydration occurs when a person does not drink adequate fluids over time. A consistent lack of fluids can have long-term effects, which we will discuss further below.

Consequences of Long-Term Dehydration

Long-term dehydration can contribute to symptoms such as headaches, difficulty focusing, dry skin, fatigue, constipation, and muscle cramps that can impact daily life.

Left untreated, long-term dehydration can cause issues such as kidney stones, frequent urinary tract infections, greater susceptibility to heat-related illnesses, seizures, and more. All of these can cause additional potential complications.

Degradation in Physical Performance

Optimal hydration is essential for athletes and physically active people. Hydration is essential for post-workout recovery and injury prevention, maintaining blood volume, regulating core body temperature, and ensuring your body can sweat normally.

Dehydration can decrease performance in endurance sports and increase the risk of muscle, tissue, and heat-related injuries, so it’s essential to drink water regularly during a workout or performance.

Effects on Mental Health

Staying hydrated can positively impact mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety.

More research is needed to help scientists understand the exact role of hydration in mood and mental health, but multiple studies support that adequate water intake helps boost mood, decrease tension, and promote happiness.

The human brain is a highly intricate and metabolically active organ, comprising about 2% of an individual’s total body weight while consuming approximately 20% of the body’s total energy expenditure.1

Proper hydration is essential for the brain’s optimal functioning, as it relies on a steady water supply to sustain various physiological processes. When dehydration occurs, even to a mild extent, it can significantly impact cognitive and emotional functions.

Water serves as a critical component in the brain’s structural composition, aiding in the maintenance of cell shape and function. Dehydration diminishes the brain’s ability to regulate these processes efficiently, thereby impairing overall cognitive function.

Dehydration’s Effects on Cognitive Function

Dehydration adversely affects cognitive function, with mild dehydration impacting tasks requiring attention, memory, and psychomotor skills. Dehydrated individuals often experience difficulties with concentration, problem-solving, and decision-making.

One study found that dehydration as mild as 1-2% of total body weight loss can lead to cognitive impairments, particularly in tasks requiring sustained attention and working memory.

Dehydration can hinder the brain’s electrical activity. Electroencephalogram (EEG) studies have revealed altered brainwave patterns in dehydrated individuals, indicating reduced electrical conductivity and disrupted neural communication. Such changes can lead to slower reaction times and diminished overall cognitive performance.

Emotional Implications of Dehydration

The emotional implications of dehydration are equally significant. Dehydration can lead to increased irritability, mood swings, and heightened stress levels.

A state of dehydration triggers the outlet of stress hormones, like cortisol, which can boost feelings of anxiety and agitation. Dehydrated individuals may also exhibit an increased perception of task difficulty and a reduced ability to cope with stressful situations.

Dehydration-induced alterations in brain function can also influence the regulation of chemical messengers, such as serotonin and dopamine. These play essential roles in mood regulation. As such, dehydration can contribute to emotional instability, including symptoms of depression and anxiety.

Can Dehydration Cause Anxiety?

You may be surprised to learn that there is a compelling link between dehydration and anxiety.

Dehydration is a physiological condition characterized by a less-than-normal intake or excessive loss of body fluids, leading to a deficiency of water and essential electrolytes. Several studies have shown a correlation between dehydration and the development or exacerbation of anxiety symptoms.

One study found that individuals who were dehydrated exhibited higher levels of anxiety compared to well-hydrated controls. Dehydration-induced anxiety was evident in various cognitive and emotional domains, including increased perceived stress, nervousness, and irritability.

The mechanisms responsible for the development of anxiety in the context of dehydration are multifaceted and primarily involve a combination of neurobiological and physiological processes.

  • Altered neurotransmitter balance: Dehydration can lead to an imbalance of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine, which are critical for mood regulation. These alterations can contribute to increased anxiety.
  • Activation of the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis: Dehydration triggers the outlet of stress hormones, such as cortisol, through the HPA axis. Elevated cortisol levels are associated with heightened anxiety, as they can impact the amygdala and prefrontal cortex, regions of the brain involved in emotional processing.
  • Impaired cognitive function: Dehydration can impair cognitive function, leading to difficulties in problem-solving and decision-making. These cognitive deficits may exacerbate feelings of anxiety and stress.
  • Autonomic nervous system dysregulation: Dehydration can disrupt the harmony of the autonomic nervous system, shifting towards sympathetic dominance. This shift can lead to increased heart rate, heart palpitations, and feelings of restlessness, all of which are common anxiety symptoms.

Recognizing the symptoms of dehydration-induced anxiety is crucial for early intervention and prevention. Here are the key symptoms to watch for:

  • Increased heart rate
  • Excessive sweating or dry skin
  • Thirst and dry mouth
  • Difficulty concentrating and irritability
  • Nervousness or restlessness
  • Muscle cramps and weakness
  • Dark yellow urine or infrequent urination

In severe cases, dehydration can lead to confusion, dizziness, and fainting symptoms. It is imperative to address dehydration promptly to alleviate anxiety symptoms.

Managing Dehydration-Induced Anxiety

Anxiety, a common mental health disorder, can be exacerbated by dehydration. The human body is composed of approximately 60% water, and adequate hydration is essential for the proper functioning of physiological and psychological processes.

In a dehydrated state, the body’s ability to balance stress hormones and neurotransmitters is compromised, leading to increased feelings of anxiety and unease. Dehydration can also lead to various physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, muscle tension, and difficulty concentrating, which can contribute to anxiety.

Maintaining optimal fluid balance is crucial to mitigating dehydration-induced anxiety. Individuals should consume adequate water daily, with recommended daily intake varying depending on age, sex, physical activity levels, and climate conditions.

In addition to drinking enough fluids, consuming water-rich foods, such as fruits and vegetables, can also contribute to hydration.

Lifestyle Changes to Reduce Anxiety

In addition to proper hydration, lifestyle changes can help reduce anxiety.2 Lifestyle factors can significantly influence one’s mental well-being. Adopting a holistic approach to anxiety management can be highly effective.

Regular physical activity has been empirically proven to address anxiety. Exercise facilitates the secretion of endorphins, which are innate mood-enhancers, and serves as a potent stress mitigation tool. Engaging in practices such as yoga, meditation, and deep breathing exercises contributes to relaxation and the reduction of anxiety.

A diet filled with whole grains, lean proteins, fruits, and vegetables supplies vital nutrients that bolster brain health and emotional equilibrium. Prudent restraint of caffeine and alcohol consumption, which can potentially exacerbate anxiety symptoms, is recommended.

Adequate sleep is a fundamental component of anxiety management. Prolonged sleep deprivation can engender elevated stress and anxiety levels. Adhering to a consistent sleep schedule and cultivating a conducive sleep environment are pivotal strategies to enhance sleep quality.

While hydration and lifestyle modifications can help significantly in the mitigation of dehydration-induced anxiety, instances may arise where professional intervention is imperative. Anxiety disorders can manifest as intricate conditions necessitating specialized therapeutic approaches.

In cases where anxiety symptoms manifest with marked severity, persistence, or substantial interference in daily life, it is imperative to seek the counsel of a healthcare practitioner or a mental health specialist. Therapies such as cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) or pharmacological interventions may be recommended based on the precise diagnosis and the severity of symptoms.

Can Dehydration Cause Panic Attacks?

In cases of dehydration, there is a notable reduction in cerebral blood flow due to decreased blood volume. This reduced blood flow can result in decreased O2 and nutrient delivery to the brain, leading to a range of neurological symptoms, including anxiety and panic.

Dehydration can disrupt the regulation of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are key to regulating your mood. Such alterations in neurotransmitter levels can increase susceptibility to panic attacks.

Dehydration also triggers hormonal changes that can contribute to panic attacks. One crucial hormone affected is cortisol, which is released in response to stress. Dehydration, perceived as a stressor by the body, prompts the release of cortisol.

Elevated cortisol levels can lead to heightened anxiety and a state of hyperarousal, increasing the likelihood of panic attacks. This hormonal response may be exacerbated in individuals already prone to anxiety disorders.

Dehydration amplifies the body’s stress response, thereby increasing the risk of panic attacks. When dehydrated, the body interprets the situation as a potential threat, activating the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-or-flight response.

This response leads to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate, all of which are common symptoms of panic attacks. Dehydration-induced stress response amplification can lead to a cascade of physical and psychological symptoms that mimic the onset of a panic attack.

Hyperventilation is a common symptom of panic attacks, characterized by rapid and shallow breathing. Dehydration can play a role in inducing hyperventilation through several mechanisms.

Dehydration reduces blood volume, which in turn decreases blood pressure. In response, the body may increase respiratory rate to compensate for the reduced oxygen delivery to vital organs, including the brain.

This increased respiratory rate can lead to hyperventilation and trigger panic attacks in susceptible individuals.

How to Recognize Dehydration-Induced Panic Attacks

Dehydration-induced panic attacks can be a distressing condition, often overlooked due to their resemblance to anxiety or panic disorders.

Understanding the symptoms, performing a differential diagnosis, recognizing the importance of early detection, and considering the need for medical testing are essential in effectively managing this condition.

Identifying Dehydration-Induced Panic Attack Symptoms

Dehydration-induced panic attacks can manifest with a constellation of symptoms closely resembling those of traditional panic and anxiety disorders.

These symptoms may include palpitations, shortness of breath, chest pain, dizziness, and a sense of impending doom. It is crucial to note that these symptoms often occur in the absence of typical triggers, such as stress or phobias, and can be a result of dehydration.

Dehydration can affect the central nervous system, leading to increased sympathetic nervous system activity contributing to panic-like symptoms. Dry mouth, dark urine, and decreased urination are also indicators of dehydration, providing essential clues for diagnosis.

Importance of Early Detection

Early detection of dehydration-induced panic attacks is paramount to preventing unnecessary emotional distress and misdiagnosing anxiety or panic disorders.

The condition is reversible with proper hydration, and prompt intervention can alleviate symptoms quickly.

Neglecting to address dehydration may lead to recurrent panic attacks, worsening of symptoms, and the unnecessary prescription of anxiolytic medications. Untreated dehydration can result in severe complications, including electrolyte imbalances, renal dysfunction, and cognitive impairment.

Recognizing the importance of early detection helps reduce healthcare costs associated with the management of anxiety or panic disorders. By accurately diagnosing and treating dehydration-induced panic attacks, healthcare resources can be allocated more efficiently, benefiting both patients and the healthcare system.

In cases where the clinical presentation is unclear, medical testing plays a pivotal role in confirming dehydration as the underlying cause of panic-like symptoms. Blood tests can help assess electrolyte levels, kidney function, and other markers of dehydration.

In severe cases, advanced imaging modalities, such as brain imaging, may be employed to rule out other potential neurological causes of panic attacks. The results of these tests are instrumental in guiding treatment decisions and ensuring that patients receive the appropriate interventions to address both dehydration and its associated symptoms.

Dehydration in Specific Groups

Although dehydration can affect everyone regardless of age, gender, or walk of life, some groups are more susceptible to dehydration than others. Let’s take a look.

Children have different fluid requirements because their metabolic rate is higher than that of adults.

Additionally, very young children may not be able to effectively communicate their thirst.

Mild and moderate dehydration in children can be corrected with water, electrolyte solutions, or juice. Severe dehydration is a medical emergency, so visiting a hospital or ER immediately is essential.

Symptoms of dehydration in children:

  • Dry lips, mouth, tongue, or throat
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Dark-colored urine
  • Decreased visits to the toilet
  • Fewer wet diapers
  • Dizziness

Symptoms of severe dehydration in children:

  • Cold
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Absence of tears when crying
  • Lethargy or low energy
  • Extreme thirst
  • Confused or drowsy

Elderly individuals have less overall fluids in their bodies for organs and tissues to draw from. They may also experience a decreased sense of thirst, putting them at higher risk of dehydration. Their kidneys may not function as well as they once did, causing extra water loss through urine. Certain medications can also contribute to water loss through urine.

Chronic dehydration in the elderly can cause problems such as urinary tract infections, balance issues, kidney stones, and more.

Timers and reminders to drink water can help prevent dehydration, and caretakers should offer elderly individuals water regularly throughout the day. Incorporating broth-based soups and water-rich fruits and vegetables into daily meals can also help the elderly stay hydrated.

Dehydration in Athletes: Performance and Recovery

Athletes are another group at increased risk of dehydration due to the demands they put on their bodies while performing.

During practice and competitions, athletes can lose fluids through sweating, hot conditions, energy demands, the intensity of the activity, and even the altitude of their location.

athlete running and drinking water

Taking rest breaks and rehydrating are essential to prevent dehydration during practice and play. Symptoms of dehydration in athletes include:

  • Irritation
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness
  • Dry mouth and tongue
  • Thirst
  • Headache
  • Lethargy
  • Dark urine
  • Loss of coordination

However, it’s just as important to avoid overhydrating, as water toxicity can cause many complications. Athletes are at a higher risk of drinking too much water both before and during exercise, especially marathon runners, hikers, triathletes, and individuals who compete in other endurance sports.

Monitoring water intake, observing urine color, and drinking only when thirsty can help prevent overhydration.

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Some ways to treat dehydration

If you are already dehydrated, You’ll need to know how to treat it effectively. Getting your dehydration resolved is important to remain healthy and avoid other health risks.

The good news is that treatment is available for dehydration, even if it is severe.

Be sure to avoid anything that can further dehydrate your body. Some things that can further dehydrate the body are very high sugar drinks, caffeine, and alcohol. Let’s look at some of the best ways to rehydrate your body.

Certain foods and liquids can be better than others to help treat your dehydration. Many foods can help hydrate the body. Some good foods that are very healthy and hydrating are watermelon, cucumber, celery, blackberries, lettuce, soups or broths, carrots, spinach, and grapefruit. Most fruits and vegetables are going to be hydrating and are a great choice to have if trying to avoid dehydration or starting to feel any symptoms.

The best liquids to drink if you are dehydrated are water, electrolyte-infused water or other drinks, Pedialyte, Gatorade, and coconut water. As stated already, be sure to avoid any foods or drinks that can make your dehydration even worse.

If you don’t have time to wait for the digestive system process for the supplements and food and drinks to hydrate the body, there is a much faster option. This is the best option, especially for those with severe dehydration symptoms. Drip IV treatments are available for effectively treating dehydration.

Hydration, vitamins, and electrolytes will be injected directly into the veins. It has an immediate positive effect on the body. This can help recover from any form of dehydration in the fastest way. There is no downtime to this treatment. You will most likely feel replenished right away. If dehydration is severe, multiple treatments may be beneficial. Even if not dehydrated, IV therapy is a good option to avoid it. Many people find it harder to drink enough fluids, especially as they age.

Athletes also may have a harder time consuming enough hydration and vitamins through diet only as well. IV therapies are a great option for these individuals as well as everyone else. It will be able to replenish vitamins as well as hydration. If you are worried about staying hydrated and want some help achieving it fast, IV therapy is a great option for you.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Is it Possible to Drink Too Much Water?

Yes, it’s possible to drink too much water. Overhydration occurs when you drink more fluids than your kidneys can process – approximately 1 liter per hour.

Overhydration can be dangerous because, when fluids build up faster than they can be processed, the body’s cells begin to swell, and your central nervous function stops functioning normally. It’s essential to seek treatment for this condition immediately.

Can Dehydration Cause Long-Term Damage?

Dehydration can cause several potential health issues if left untreated, including:

  • Kidney stones
  • Urinary tract infections
  • Hypovolemic shock
  • Seizures
  • Heat-related injuries and illnesses

Each of these problems has the potential to cause long-term damage.

How Quickly Can You Rehydrate Your Body?

It depends on how dehydrated you are.

  • Mild and moderate dehydration can be corrected within a few minutes to a few hours of drinking water. It’s important to not drink too quickly to avoid shocking your system and causing nausea or vomiting.
  • Severe dehydration may require an IV line, medical supervision, and 24 hours of treatment to restore normal fluid levels safely.

Are There Foods That Can Help With Hydration?

There are many food options that can help rehydrate you – especially fruits and vegetables. In addition to the fluid boost that these options offer, they also provide vitamins and minerals that can support your overall health and well-being.

Water-rich vegetables include

  • Cucumbers
  • Lettuce
  • Zucchini
  • Celery
  • Tomatoes
  • Bell peppers
  • Cabbage
  • Cauliflower

Water-rich fruits include:

  • Watermelon
  • Pineapple
  • Blueberries
  • Peaches
  • Oranges
  • Cantaloupe
  • Strawberries


[1] Mergenthaler P. - Sugar for the brain: the role of glucose in physiological and pathological brain function;

[2] Wang X. - Associations of lifestyle with mental health and well-being in Chinese adults: a nationwide study;