5 Signs You're Dehydrated

Posted: Jul 18th, 2022 at 12:00AM - by Ashlee Arnold

woman drinking from water bottle outside next to bike

Summer is here, which means the temperatures are climbing. You might be spending more time out in the heat and sun. You might even be taking your workouts outdoors. If that's the case, then you need to take great care to stay sufficiently hydrated. Maintaining proper hydration is one factor in preventative health, and it's something you need to be on top of every day. Unfortunately, approximately 75% of Americans are chronically dehydrated.

In this blog, we'll explore some of the signs you're dehydrated, including:

  1. Fatigue.
  2. Dizziness.
  3. Muscle cramps.
  4. Dark urine.
  5. Headaches.

We'll also talk about certain people who might be more prone to dehydration.

Psst! On a related note, be sure to check out our blog on summer health tips.

5 Signs You're Dehydrated and What They Mean

Symptoms of dehydration aren't as simple as feeling thirsty. Failing to drink enough can lead to sometimes serious ramifications.

1. Fatigue

When you're dehydrated, your blood pressure drops. This can lead to poor circulation and a decrease in the blood flow to your brain. This is what ultimately leads to feelings of exhaustion.

Furthermore, your heart has to work harder to pump blood, nutrients, and oxygen throughout your body. This can further cause tiredness.

2. Dizziness

When you don't drink enough fluids, your blood volume decreases. This lowers your blood pressure, which means that the blood going to your brain also drops. And this is what can cause dizziness and lightheadedness.

Depending on how dehydrated you are, a glass of water might be enough to help you feel better. However, if it's more severe, you might need to receive fluids through an IV, along with electrolytes like potassium or sodium.

3. Muscle Cramps

Another one of the signs you're dehydrated is muscle cramps. According to research published in the Journal of Athletic Training, dehydration can hurt muscle performance by "impeding thermal regulation, altering water movement across cell membranes, and interfering with actin-myosin cross-bridge formation."

Translation? Reduced blood flow to the muscles, an imbalance in electrolytes, and decreased blood volume can prompt the muscles to cramp, contract, and spasm.

Man drinking from water bottle outside

4. Dark Urine

This is one of the easiest ways to gauge how hydrated you are (or aren't). If your urine is darker in pigment and stronger in odor, you're less hydrated. If it's lighter and weaker in smell, you're more hydrated.

But why does this happen?

Essentially, when you're dehydrated, your kidneys try to hang onto as much water as possible. So, when you go to the bathroom, your urine has less water in it. Fluids help to dilute the urine. The fewer fluids you're drinking, the less your urine can be diluted, and the darker (and smellier) it'll be.

5. Headaches

Another one of the signs of dehydration is headaches. Dehydration can cause headaches for a number of reasons. First, dehydration can cause the body to lose electrolytes, which can lead to muscle cramps and headaches. Second, dehydration can cause the blood vessels to constrict, which can lead to headaches. Finally, dehydration can cause the brain to literally shrink, pulling away from the skull. This puts pressure on your nerves and causes pain, which can also lead to headaches.

Drinking fluids helps to “plump” the brain back up to a healthier size, and the headache should go away.

Now that you know some of the signs of dehydration, let's talk about how this can impact certain people differently.

Are You More Prone to Dehydration?

Everyone needs to drink enough water to stay healthy. But certain people need to be extra vigilant.

People with Diabetes

If you have diabetes, then glucose (sugar) builds up in your blood. Your kidneys have to work harder to manage all this glucose. If they can't keep up, that glucose ends up in your urine, which takes fluids away from your tissues. This can make you more dehydrated.

Women drinking water from clear glass

If You've Drank a Lot of Alcohol

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it causes your body to remove fluids faster than it otherwise would. This means that if you've been drinking alcohol, ironically, you might be dehydrated.

Aim to limit your alcohol intake. And if you do choose to have multiple drinks, aim to have a glass of water in between each. This is a simple way to stay hydrated and as an added bonus, it'll help you avoid drinking too much and ending up experiencing a nasty hangover in the morning.

Note: It's a similar scenario if you happen to be taking any medications that are diuretics. If you're unsure if this applies to you, be sure to have a conversation with your doctor about it!

If You've Been Experiencing Vomiting and/or Diarrhea

Both vomiting and diarrhea can cause the body to lose a ton of fluids, minerals, and electrolytes very quickly. We know that during these times, the last thing on your mind might be guzzling water. If it's hard to drink (or keep fluids down), then try sipping on something with added electrolytes, like Pedialyte.

People Who've Spent a Lot of Time Out in the Heat

Sweating is your body's natural method for cooling itself down. It's necessary — vital, even. To an extent, sweating can even help you stay hydrated. This is because some of the sweat on your skin helps to maintain your body's level of hydration and electrolytes, including salt (which makes up a big part of your sweat).

However, excessive sweating means that you're losing a large amount of water. This can eventually lead to dehydration. If you're spending a lot of time outside in the heat, and especially if you're physically active, make sure to drink plenty of water throughout to stay consistently hydrated.

If you're experiencing signs you're dehydrated, you likely know what to do: Drink up! If the symptoms of dehydration still don't ease up, talk to your healthcare provider right away.

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