Dehydration occurs when your body does not have enough water.
It can be mild or severe, depending on how much fluid is missing from your body.
That being said, your cells cannot function without water.
This is the reason you can only survive for a few days without fluids (1).
Sadly, many adults and children do not drink enough fluids, which can cause chronic dehydration (2).
Symptoms such as diarrhea, vomiting, and excessive sweating can cause acute or short-term dehydration (3).
Dehydration can have a negative impact on many aspects of health and can even be fatal in severe cases, so it’s important to be aware of the potential signs and symptoms of dehydration in both adults and children.
Here are eight ways to tell if you’re dehydrated.
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1. Dark Urine
If you don’t drink enough fluids, your urine will be darker, and you will pee less frequently.
In fact, observing the color of your urine is thought to be a practical way to detect dehydration (4).
Darker-colored urine can occur when your body conserves water and does not excrete it in urine.
As a result, waste products from the body, such as sodium and urea, become more concentrated in the urine (5).
It is unnecessary to have completely clear urine.
The ideal urine color is a pale yellow, similar to the color of light straw.
Keep in mind that other factors, such as the use of medications and B vitamins, can cause your urine to turn bright yellow.
You may feel more tired than usual if you are dehydrated.
This is because dehydration affects all aspects of health, including your sleep-wake cycles.
One study, which included over 26,000 Chinese and American adults, discovered that inadequate hydration was significantly associated with shorter sleep duration and that people who were adequately hydrated slept longer than those who were not (6).
Dehydration can also make you feel more tired during exercise.
A small study involving 14 male athletes discovered that acute dehydration of 3.2% body mass resulted in increased fatigue perception and a decrease in exercise endurance (7).
You may experience frequent headaches if you do not drink enough fluids. Although dehydration is strongly linked to headaches, researchers aren’t certain how dehydration causes headaches.
In theory, fluid depletion in the body causes the stretching of blood channels in the brain, resulting in headaches (8).
However, researchers acknowledge that dehydration-related headaches are likely caused by multiple mechanisms and that some people may be more susceptible to dehydration-related headaches than others (9).
Some studies show that increasing water intake may help migraine sufferers reduce their headache symptoms.
One study of 256 women with migraine headaches found that those who drank more water had significantly slowed migraine severity, frequency, and duration (10).
4. Heart Palpitations
Dehydration can cause cardiac symptoms such as palpitations, pounding, fluttering, or an irregular heartbeat.
Drinking insufficient fluids can have a negative impact on overall health, including heart health.
According to one review, dehydration can impair heart function in a variety of ways, including by impairing blood vessel function and altering blood pressure regulation (11).
Dehydration can also impair heart function in people who engage in a strenuous exercise in hot weather.
It accomplishes this by lowering the amount of blood pumped out of the left ventricle of the heart and decreasing cardiac output, or the amount of blood pumped out per minute by the heart (12).
5. Poor Mental Health
Inadequate fluid intake can strain your brain and impair your ability to concentrate. Some studies have found that dehydration is linked to short-term memory, focus, and mood.
A small study involving 12 men discovered that not drinking water for 36 hours resulted in higher test error rates and negative effects on energy, mood, attention, and memory (13).
These symptoms were relieved by rehydrating with water.
Severe dehydration can cause a change in the mental state, which can manifest as confusion and anger (16).
6. Low Blood Pressure
Low blood pressure is a sign of dehydration that appears only when a person is severely dehydrated.
Dehydration impairs blood vessel function and blood pressure regulation. It results in low blood volume, or a moderate amount of fluid circulating within your capillaries, veins, arteries, and heart chambers (17).
When your blood volume decreases, your body compensates by increasing your pulse rate and respiratory rate while decreasing your blood pressure. Low blood pressure is a dangerous sign of severe dehydration.
Severe dehydration can cause dangerously low blood pressure, shock, and even death (18).
You may feel dizzy and light-headed if you are dehydrated, especially if you stand up (19).
The medical term for a drop in blood pressure when standing or sitting up is called orthostatic hypotension. Orthostatic hypotension can occur because of dehydration (20).
This is especially common in older people, who are more prone to dehydration and low blood volume (hypovolemia) (21).
You may feel dizzy and lightheaded if you are dehydrated, especially if you stand or sit up quickly. Severe dehydration can even cause fainting in some people, especially the elderly (22).
8. Dry Skin and Cracked Lips
Dry skin and lips, as well as decreased skin elasticity, are the most common signs of dehydration (23).
Dehydration may contribute to symptoms such as dry skin, a dry mouth, and dry or cracked lips.
Keep in mind that dry skin and cracked lips can be symptoms of a variety of other health issues, so it’s critical to get the right diagnosis, especially if you’re experiencing dry skin or cracked lips despite drinking adequate amounts of water.
The skin turgor test is frequently used by healthcare professionals to assess a person’s hydration status. The skin turgor test involves grasping the skin on the lower arm or abdomen between two fingers for a few seconds and then releasing it.
Hydrated skin quickly returns to its normal position, whereas dehydrated skin remains “tenting” and takes much longer to recover. Reduced skin turgor shows moderate-to-severe dehydration (24).
Tips to Prevent Dehydration
To prevent dehydration, it’s difficult to apply hard-and-fast rules because it depends on so many factors, such as your age, gender, whether you’re pregnant or breast-feeding, and whether you have any underlying medical conditions.
However, the most recent available guidelines from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine in 2004 recommend 2.7 liters per day for women and 3.7 liters per day for men (25).
This amount can be accomplished by consuming foods and fluids. Here are some suggestions for getting enough fluids and avoiding dehydration:
- Keep your water bottle full all times
- Try spicing up plain water with lemon
- Turn to sugar-free herbal tea or coffee
- Swap your packaged snacks for fresh fruits
- Sip more fluid during meals
Mild dehydration is usually treated by increasing your fluid intake. It’s crucial to remember that extreme dehydration can be dangerous and should be treated by a doctor.
If you or a loved one is showing signs of severe dehydration, seek medical attention right away.
This is especially critical for infants, children, and the elderly, who are more susceptible to dehydration.
Prolonged diarrhea or vomiting, extreme exercise, laxative use, burns, and certain medical conditions were all risk factors for severe dehydration.
Severe dehydration requires prompt medical attention and cannot be treated at home.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, elderly people may be more vulnerable to dehydration for a variety of reasons.
Some elderly people become chronically dehydrated if they take certain medications, such as diuretics, have a diminished sense of thirst, cannot easily get a glass of water, or forget to drink because of dementia.
Dehydration in the elderly can cause confusion, low blood pressure, dizziness, and constipation.
If you have an elderly relative who has mobility issues or cognitive problems, keep an eye out for signs of dehydration or ask their caregivers to do so.