The human body is made up of approximately 60% water. Staying hydrated is a vital, but often overlooked, aspect of health and wellness. Dehydration occurs when the body is losing more fluids than it’s taking in. The more active someone is, the more attentive they need to be to water (and electrolyte) consumption. Knowing the signs of dehydration offers an opportunity to hydrate, before symptoms become more severe.
Common Signs of Dehydration
Bad Breath, Dry Mouth
When we become dehydrated, our saliva production slows down, which can lead to bad breath. Dehydration is actually one of the leading causes of halitosis. Ample amounts of saliva create a less welcoming environment for bacteria, and help sustain healthy pH (alkaline to acid) balance. So, put down the mints, and grab the bottle!
Because lips are fairly susceptible to drying out, chapping can indicate a few issues, dehydration being one of the most common. Other causes include licking (which can either be the reason for, or consequence of, dry and cracking lips), vitamin deficiencies, or smoking. Increasing water intake can be done alongside of, and in conjunction with, other remedies such as using lip balm or exfoliation.
Water consumption is an essential component of the digestive process. Hard or infrequent bowel movements typically result from stool spending extended periods of time in the colon. Hydration helps keep things moving along…
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of chronic constipation. The food you eat makes its way from your stomach to the large intestine, or colon. If you don’t have enough water in your body already, the large intestine soaks up water from your food waste.“How Drinking Fluids Can Help You Manage Constipation“, WebMD
This makes you have hard stools that are difficult to pass.
Dark Yellow Urine
The color of urine is on a continuum. It can be affected by food, vitamins, certain medications, or medical conditions. One of the most common causes of dark yellow urine is dehydration. When the body isn’t properly hydrated, the kidneys begin to store, rather than rid themselves of, water. This shift causes the urine to darken, and may create an odor. Close to completely clear urine, on the other hand, may be an indication of over-hydration.
Infographic courtesy of Healthdirect Australia.
Someone suffering from higher than normal levels of water loss, or lower than normal levels of water replenishment, will begin to feel fatigued. If you’re having a midday slump, even though you’ve eaten and had plenty of rest, you may be dehydrated.
Feeling Faint, Dizzy, or Lightheaded
Feeling faint, dizzy, or lightheaded may be the result of a blood pressure drop due to dehydration. Not increasing water consumption when it’s hot and humid, or during vigorous exercise, can leave someone feeling weak, shaky, or wobbly. If dehydration becomes severe enough, it could lead to a loss of consciousness.
Vasovagal syncope is often triggered by a combination of dehydration and upright posture. But it can also have an emotional trigger such as seeing blood (“fainting at the sight of blood”).“Syncope (Fainting)“, John Hopkins Medicine
Although dehydration headaches feel different from person to person, many describe them as pulsing. They’re frequently compared to hangover headaches.
Drinking enough water does more than just prevent dehydration headaches – it can also prevent migraines. While we do not know exactly what causes a migraine, we do know that dehydration is a known trigger for migraine headaches.“Is your headache caused by dehydration?“, The Pain Center
Lack of Sweat or Hot Flashes
These two signs of dehydration were consolidated because sweat regulates body temperature. When we cannot spare the fluid needed to sweat, we begin to heat up. A noticeable decrease in sweat when it’s humid, hot, or you’re engaged in intense cardiovascular exercise, may indicate you’ve become dehydrated. It’s advisable to increase water consumption prior to, during, and also following exercise, or when spending time outside, during the heat of the day, when it’s warmer.
Low Urine Frequency or Volume
Dehydration is one of the most common causes of significant reductions in urination. This decrease may result in fewer trips to the restroom (people typically urinate six or seven times per day, but “normal peeing” ranges from four to ten times). Another way a lack of hydration can impact urination is by decreasing volume, which may be noticeable in a single visit, or over the course of multiple sittings | standings.
Premature Aging of Skin
The skin, like the lips, can become dry when we’re not properly hydrated. It may flake, peal, or crack. Because dehydration can reduce the elasticity (turgor) of skin, one test of hydration is to pinch the skin on the top of your hand, hold it for a few seconds, and then let go. Hydrated skin will almost instantly return to its original form, dehydrated skin will linger and take longer to fall into place.
If a lack of hydration persists. The eyes may become sunken and dark circles and lines may appear.
When you think of dandruff, you think of itchy flaky skin on your scalp, often leaving evidence behind stuck in your hair. Itching and flaking are two of the most common signs of dry skin on your face as well. This can be an all-over issue, but is often most noticeable near and in the eyebrows.Is Your Skin Showing Signs of Dehydration?, Associates MD
Rapid Heart Rate
As mentioned previously, when our fluid level plummets our blood pressure drops. This may lead to shallow, rapid, and/or heavy breathing. While this is happening, the person’s face may become flushed.
A lack of fluids in the body might also cause symptoms that mimic allergies or asthma. The body utilizes water to moisten nasal passages and bronchial tubes, as you dehydrate they become drier. Consequently, it becomes more difficult to breath. This problem can compound as rapid breathing brings in more air, further drying the nasal passage.
Common symptoms associated with dehydration and elevated histamine include asthma, allergies, acid reflux, tension headaches, constipation, irritable bowel, rheumatoid arthritis, migraine headaches and chronic pain in various regions of the body.“Can Dehydration Cause Asthma and Allergies?“, Dr. Jockers
Many people wait until they feel thirsty to drink, but feeling thirst is actually one of the signs of dehydration. Although it is more subjective than some of the other indicators, it’s extremely important because thirst is often the first sign that someone notices. It can also provide motivation, and is likely to drive someone to drink (water).
Are You Shocked By How Many Signs of Dehydration You Have?
Perhaps you shouldn’t be… Studies conducted in the United States estimate that 75% of adults are drinking less water, on a regular basis, than is recommended for healthy levels of hydration. Put another way, three out of four people may be chronically dehydrated.
If Signs of Dehydration Persist…
If you’re experiencing multiple signs of dehydration, or persistent signs of dehydration (i.e. indicators that don’t improve as you increase daily water consumption), it may behoove you to have a conversation with your primary care provider. There are disorders related to water and/or sodium intake, and excretion, that could be contributing to the symptoms being experienced.
Whether or not you’re showing signs of dehydration, let’s take a minute to toast water and its many health benefits!
Grab a cup from the tap or, if you prefer, a bottle. Throw in a slice of lemon, lime, orange, cucumber, or kiwi, and sip away!