Healthy Living

8 signs of dehydration that you’ve probably never heard of

Woman drinking water

We all know the most common method of checking if you’re dehydrated- the color of your pee. However, this is not the only sign our bodies give us when we become dehydrated. Dehydration can lead to urinary and kidney problems, seizures, and heat injuries so if you’re experiencing any of the following signs or symptoms, take a moment to quench your thirst.

“Generally speaking, we get about 80% of our total daily fluid from water and other beverages and 20% from food,” says Dr. Jacqueline DuBose, a primary care physician with Augusta University Family Medicine.

The current recommendations for daily fluid intake are about 2.7 liters (91 ounces) for adult women and 3.7 liters (125 ounces) for adult men. According to Dr. DuBose, there are other variables that can influence our intake needs like sex, age, pregnancy or breastfeeding status, physical activity level, exposure to temperature extremes (both hot and cold), and overall health.

Often, we get dehydrated due to outside factors such as diarrhea, intense exercise, hot weather, or illness. When experiencing any of these, it is extremely easy to lose track of your water intake and become dehydrated. To avoid doing so, pay attention to these unusual signs of dehydration to ensure you meet your proper water intake each day.

1. Bad Breath

One of the main jobs of saliva is to act as a rinse cycle for your mouth. If you don’t have enough water, the bacteria in your mouth are not regulated and rinsed by the saliva, and as a result, your mouth becomes very dry. Dry mouth = bad breath.

2. Dry skin and cracked lips

Sometimes, dry skin can be quite obvious. Especially if your lips are chapped. Looking at your joints, like your elbows and knees, are usually a good place to start. If your skin is more dry than normal, the skin around these areas will become flaky. Another method of checking for dry skin is by pinching yourself. If the skin remains “tented” and takes some time before leveling out to normal, you probably have dry skin.

3. Fever

Another sign that you may be dehydrated— high body temperature! Usually, the higher the fever, the more you are dehydrated. If the fever persists, there may be another underlying problem besides dehydration. Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss it.

4. Headaches

Dehydration can cause headaches that range from mild pain to migraine level pain. Without the proper amount of fluids, the brain can shrink (temporarily) causing pain and headaches. Once rehydrated, the brain returns to its normal size, and the headache will fade.

5. Food Cravings

When our body needs water, we often feel an urge to seek food- especially sugar-filled foods. It’s very common for our bodies to confuse the feelings of hunger and thirst, so sometimes when you’re feeling hungry, you may be getting dehydrated. Try drinking some water.

6. Constipation

Water is a natural laxative for our bodies. Water assists our digestive system, making things much easier. If you are constipated and bloated, one likely sign is that you don’t obtain enough water on a daily basis.

7. Fatigue or lightheadedness

A common sign of dehydration is fatigue, lightheadedness or dizziness. This is extremely common during the summer months and is a sign of chronic dehydration. 

8. Weight gain

Water helps speed up our metabolisms. So, dehydration does just the opposite- slows down our metabolism. Lowering your metabolic rate will eventually lead to weight gain. The easiest way to speed up your metabolism? Drink water!

Each of these signs contains a simple solution. If you start experiencing any of these signs, take a minute and think about what you’ve had to drink today. Or, try incorporating high water foods into your diet. Strawberries, citrus fruits, cucumbers, lettuce, celery, tomatoes, squash, watermelon and other melons are all great options if you’re trying to “eat” your water.

Though these signs often point to dehydration, certain underlying medical conditions and medications can cause these symptoms, so discuss with your doctor if the symptoms persist or become severe.

But wait, there is such a thing as too much water.

 While hydration is important to our overall health, Dr. DuBose also points out the dangers of drinking too much water.

“Overhydration, or water intoxication, is rare but can be fatal,” she warns. “It occurs when sodium and other electrolytes become too diluted in the blood and tissues. Endurance athletes, people with certain chronic medical conditions like uncontrolled diabetes or schizophrenia, and users of the recreational drug MDMA (ecstasy) can be at risk.”

Signs and symptoms of water intoxication include:
  • nausea and vomiting
  • headache
  • confusion or disorientation
  • weakness
  • muscle cramps

If you experience these symptoms or witness someone who is, seek immediate medical attention.

Augusta University Health offers a variety of care centers and practice sites to fit your schedule. Make an appointment at one of our care centers today, visit augustahealth.org, or call 706-721-2273 (CARE).

About the author

Augusta University Health

Augusta University Health

Based in Augusta, Georgia, Augusta University Health is a world-class health care network, offering the most comprehensive primary, specialty and subspecialty care in the region. Augusta University Health provides skilled, compassionate care to its patients, conducts leading-edge clinical research and fosters the medical education and training of tomorrow’s health care practitioners. Augusta University Health is a not-for-profit corporation that manages the clinical operations associated with Augusta University.