What Are Dehydration headaches? Symptoms - Prevention Magazine

You want relief as soon as possible when headaches strike. If there is a quick, easy way to relieve your pain, that’s even better. It turns out that drinking enough water is a simple way to get rid of headaches, at least when you are dealing with dehydration-related headaches.

Dehydration headaches, while not a medical term per se, are common. Doctors say they see them frequently. What is a dehydration headache and how can you tell if you have one? Here’s what you need to know.

What is a headache caused by dehydration?

Dehydration headaches occur when you do not drink enough fluids. According to Medhat Mikhael M.D. a pain management specialist at MemorialCare Orange Coast Medical Center, in Fountain Valley, Calif., and medical director of their non-operative program, even mild dehydration can cause headaches.

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Dr. Mikhael explains that when you are dehydrated the brain tends shrink or contract inside the skull. This puts pressure on the cranial nervous system and tension on the meninges (the lining that covers the brain). This can cause headaches.”

Amit Sachdev M.D. M.S. is the medical director at Michigan State University’s Department of Neurology. He says that everyone is different. “We don’t know the exact line between dehydration headaches, but dehydration can make your body less resilient,” says Sachdev.

How common is dehydration headache?

Nicole Avena Ph.D. is a nutritionist and assistant professor of neurology at Mount Sinai School of Medicine. She says they’re common. “It is one of the first symptoms that one can experience if they are dehydrated, other than dry mouth and thirst,” says Avena.

Dr. Mikhael reports that he often sees headaches caused by dehydration in his patients. “We notice a lot of patients when we ask them how much fluids that they drink and when the last time they had water, that the symptoms are usually associated with dehydration or after a strenuous workout when they sweat a lot,” says Dr. Mikhael.

What does a headache caused by dehydration feel like?

Everyone is different. Dr. Sachdev explains that dehydration is most commonly associated with tension headaches, which are characterized by aching and low-level pain. Sometimes, it can trigger more severe headaches, such as migraines.

Avena says that these headaches are “a full-head ache,” meaning they don’t hurt just in one area. She adds that the pain can last for hours and is usually dull.

What causes dehydration in the body?

Dr. Mikhael explains that dehydration can be caused by either not consuming enough fluids, or by losing more fluids.

According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine these are the most common causes of water loss:

  • Diarrhea
  • Vomiting
  • Sweating too much
  • Urinating too much
  • Fever
  • Not drinking enough

How to prevent dehydration headaches

Experts say it’s important to drink enough fluids. Dr. Sachdev says that it’s as simple as drinking enough liquids.

The U.S. National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine recommends that you aim to achieve the following goals for liquids, including those from food and drinks:

  • Men should drink about 15.5 cups (3.7 litri) of fluids per day
  • Women should drink about 11.5 cups (2.7 litri) of fluids per day.

Water pills and other medications can also affect your hydration requirements. Dr. Mikhael recalls a patient who suffered from headaches after taking water pills to treat high blood pressure. “I told her you could be behind in fluids if you’re peeing a lot more than usual, and you are probably not compensating – you need to drink more,” he says. “In her subsequent visit, she said that You were right. The headache has gone.”

Dr. Mikhael suggests that you drink more water during and after workouts if you experience dehydration headaches. Avena says that electrolyte drinks, pickle juice and even water can help. She says that they provide electrolytes, without the sugar. They can also help prevent dehydration headaches from starting.

How to treat headaches caused by dehydration

Drinking more water will help. If your headache is particularly bad, you can take acetaminophen, or Tylenol, says Kiran Rajneesh M.D. a neurologist at The Ohio State University Wexner medical Center.

Dr. Rajneesh advises: “Avoid sugary drinks as they can cause you to become dehydrated by removing water from your tissues.”

When to consult a doctor about headaches

If you experience headaches that are similar to those caused by dehydration, doctors suggest drinking more water. If it doesn’t work, you should see a doctor.

Dr. Sachdev advises that this is especially true “if headaches interfere in your daily activities or occur more than once a week.” Dr. Mikhael advises that if you have more severe symptoms such as fainting, numbness or tingling, hand weakness or numbness it is important to seek immediate medical attention. “Those are symptoms of a stroke or a more severe condition,” he says.

Korin Miller, a freelance writer, specializes in lifestyle trends and sexual health. Her work has appeared in Men’s Health and Women’s Health as well as Self, Glamour and many other publications. She holds a master’s from American University and lives near the beach. She hopes to one day own a taco truck and teacup pig.