Dehydration Headache – Drink Your Way Out of Pain

Let me present you a scenario most of us have experienced at some point. You are waking up on a Sunday morning, and you are not feeling your best.

You might think the reason is you indulged in one too many glasses of wine the night before. And you might think to yourself, let me sweat it out, and I will feel better. After all, exercise is a good cure for hangover symptoms.

But you end up being wrong. The moment you step in the gym, you feel even more pain in the back of your head, and again with every next step you take.

The reason? A dehydration headache.  A lot of hangover symptoms are caused by dehydration, and trying to sweat it out might result in even more fluid loss.

Headaches are one of the most common causes of pain and missed days of work [1]http://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/headache-disorders. And as well know, there are different types of headaches.

With that in mind, can your headache be caused by dehydration? Of course yes.

Nine out of ten adults will experience headache at one point in their life [2]https://www.statista.com/topics/1974/headache-and-migraine/. The good news is a dehydration headache can be easily treated and prevented.

What is a dehydration headache?

Unlike tension headaches, migraines, and cluster headaches, the dehydration type of a headache is a secondary headache [3]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2908954/. It is caused by not having enough fluids in your body.

The pain is usually mild, but sometimes, it can reach severe levels as migraine.

Your body needs a proper balance of fluids and electrolytes to function properly. And every day, our body loses fluids and water through daily activities such as urinating and sweating.

In most cases, we can easily balance the fluid loss by consuming water or eating fluid-rich foods (most fruits). However, in some cases, the fluid loss cannot be quickly replenished.

In those cases, your body can become dehydrated, which leads to complications, one of which is a dehydration headache.

When your body is dehydrated, your brain will temporarily contract or shrink due to fluid loss. This defensive mechanism will cause the brain to pull away from the skull, which will result in pain and headache.

Once you restore proper fluid balance, your brain will go back to normal.

Symptoms of dehydration

Symptoms of dehydration

As mentioned previously, the pain you will feel can be dull and mild, or intense migraine [4]https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1393454/.

You can feel pain at the front, back, side, or all over your head. Unlike some other types of headaches, one caused by dehydration doesn’t have a designated pain spot on the head.

The good news is that you are not likely to experience facial pain or pressure, something that is common in sinus headaches for example. Or pain in the back of the neck, a common tension headache symptom.

Since a headache occurs when your body is dehydrated, you are actually experiencing similar symptoms of dehydration [5]https://today.uconn.edu/2012/02/even-mild-dehydration-can-alter-mood/.

They include:

  • Mild thirst
  • Reduced urination
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Dark colored urine
  • Fatigue
  • Dry and sticky mouth
  • Loss of skin elasticity
  • Increased heart rate
  • Low blood pressure
  • Lack of sweating
  • Unconsciousness
  • Sunken eyes

Any of the symptoms above can be easily treated by consuming more water or drinks that contain electrolytes. However, when the symptoms are more severe, you might need an electrolyte shot or infusion at a hospital.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Extreme thirst
  • Extreme dry mouth
  • Little to no urine
  • Extreme irritability
  • Extreme confusion
  • Rapid heartbeat and breathing
  • Delirium
  • Sunken fontanels in infants
  • Shriveled and dry skin
  • Sunken eyes

Causes of dehydration

As mentioned previously, this type of headache occurs when you are dehydrated. The bad news is that even mild dehydration can cause a headache.

Dehydration is a condition that occurs when your body is not getting enough water and fluids to meet its needs. In most cases, the amount of fluid going into your body matches the amount of fluid exiting your body.

Water leaves your body through sweat and urination. Certain factors can disrupt the balance, and cause dehydration.

Those include:

  • Vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Fever
  • Excess urination
  • Extreme sweating due to heat or heavy exercise

And while anyone can get dehydrated, there are certain risk factors that increase the chances. People at higher risk are the following:

  • People living in higher altitudes
  • Elderly people
  • Infants and young children
  • People with chronic illnesses such as kidney disease or diabetes
  • Patients taking medications that increase urine output
  • People who live in hot climates
  • Endurance athletes

How to get rid of it

Electrolyte-rich drinks

As mentioned previously, replenishing your fluids and electrolytes is an easy way to get rid of a headache.

Here are all the ways for treating a dehydration headache.

Drink plenty of water

This is a foolproof method of getting rid of a headache that is caused by dehydration. The average amount of water needed to feel hydrated is between 16 and 32 ounces of water.

When you are dehydrated, you should target even more than that. You can take small sips, and once you feel better in an hour or two, drink even more water.

Electrolyte-rich drinks

Not only you need to replenish your fluids, you also needs to replenish electrolytes lost due to dehydration [6]https://eletewater.co.uk/blogs/research/8029111-water-electrolytes-how-they-prevent-dehydration.

Some good electrolyte drinks include sports and children’s electrolyte drinks. You can also consume fruits like banana, which is rich in potassium, a mineral that balances your electrolytes and fluids.

Take a pain reliever

If a headache is too severe, you should kick-start the recovery process by taking two pain relievers and a glass of water. Go to a quiet place and rest, so that you can feel better.

If you are at work, rest your head on your desk for 15 minutes before the medicine starts working.

Decrease physical activity

If a headache attack occurs when you are working out, make sure to stop immediately. And if it happens while you are at home, you might need to consider temporarily decreasing your physical activity to avoid heat and sweating.

Minimize physical activity for a day or two, and focus on hydration and fluid intake.

Cold compress

When you feel like your head is pounding, your best friend is ice. Prepare a cold compress using ice packs and apply on the spot of your head where you feel pain.

How to prevent headache recurrence

Preventing dehydration requires you to be proactive. That means keeping hydration at high level at all times. It might sound simple, but a lot of people struggle with keeping hydration up.

Don’t wait until you are thirsty to drink a glass of water. Make it a habit of drinking a glass of water every hour.

Pay attention to your body to notice the early symptoms. Look for any changes in the environment. If the weather is hotter, you need to up your consumption of water. If you are exercising, you need to consume more water as well.

You can carry a reusable water bottle with you, so that you always have easy access to water when you are on the go. Add a sugar-free mix to your water to improve the taste, and to up your electrolytes. When you go to the gym, carry a water bottle with you.

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