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Symptoms of Dehydration

Updated on June 2, 2013

Obvious signs of dehydration include thirst and dry mouth. But dehydration may also be the cause of some less obvious symptoms that you might not immediately connect to dehydration. These include headaches, dizziness, and even insomnia. As more water is lost the symptoms become more severe. Tingling, dimmed vision, and delirium indicate more serious dehydration. Dehydration has the potential to be fatal when a person loses 15% of their normal water volume.

Severe dehydration is treated with intravenous fluids. After developing a kidney infection, a nurse attached an IV to my arm and the sudden contrast between a dehydrated state and a normal state was astounding. IVs work fast to restore water and electrolytes to your blood stream. Soon many of my other symptoms like aches and nausea dissolved and I experienced a pleasant buoyant feeling. The fact that I felt better after the IV than I did before I was even sick shows how important water is to your health! (It also shows that how as a typical American I probably didn't drink as much water as I needed on a regular basis).

The Caravan, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (c. 1854) -  Unwary travelers on the Silk Road and Oregon trail who didn't bring enough water with them perished before they reached their destination.
The Caravan, Alexandre-Gabriel Decamps (c. 1854) - Unwary travelers on the Silk Road and Oregon trail who didn't bring enough water with them perished before they reached their destination.

Causes of Dehydration

There are many ways a person can become dehydrated. Hot and dry climates always quicken the rate of water loss. Sometimes a person doesn't realize that they need to increase their water intake when they travel to this sort of climate. At a youth hostel I used to work at in Las Vegas a young college student died after a night of heavy drinking. He had walked back to the hostel in the morning after the sun had come out and gone to sleep as soon as he got back. There wasn't enough water in his body to process the alcohol and he never woke up. His death was deemed a combination of dehydration and alcohol intoxication.

Sports and exercise can cause dehydration through sweating if you don't drink enough water to replenish what you are losing. This is why athletes drink Gatorade, which also replenishes an electrolyte in addition to water. Pop stars like Katy Perry and Beyonce are prone to dehydration because of the hectic timing and amount of dancing in their live shows.

Illnesses may make it difficult to keep your body hydrated, especially if they involve vomiting or diarrhea. Dehydration is known to accompany certain diseases like cholera, Yellow Fever, and diabetes. Urinary tract infections and kidney infections can be caused by dehydration and also increase dehydration after the infection sets in.

Drugs like MDMA and amphetamine can cause dehydration. MDMA is commonly used at raves and is particularly dangerous in this situation because the user may continue taking more MDMA tablets as they wear off and the altered state may prevent them from realizing how dehydrated they are. They are likely to keep dancing while their water level keeps going down and their temperature keeps rising. Interestingly, to discourage illegal drug use, contemporary nightclubs have marked up the price of their bottled water.

In other instances dehydration can occur because there is no safe water is available to drink, like after hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. Sewage and hazardous substances contaminate the water making it unsafe to drink. This tends to happen to flood waters in urban areas.

Running and Dehydration

Steven Evans
Steven Evans

Some Foods Contain Water

Certain foods contain water that can help rehydrate the body. Many fruits like watermelon are almost entirely composed of water. (That's why it's called watermelon!).

  • Watermelon
  • Cantaloupe
  • Grapefruit
  • Lettuce
  • Tomatoes
  • Eggplant
  • Yogurt

Symptoms of Dehydration

Symptoms of Minor Dehydration

  • Thirst
  • Dry Mouth
  • insomnia
  • fatigue and excessive sleepiness
  • nausea
  • Weakness
  • dry skin
  • flushed skin
  • muscle cramps
  • cracked lips

Symptoms of Severe Dehydration

  • yellow or orange urine
  • fainting
  • sunken eyes
  • tingling
  • vision that seems dim
  • delirium
  • painful urination
  • rapid weight loss
  • dizziness

Effects of Dehydration in Depth

Headaches and Dehydration

Headaches can be caused by the habit of not drinking enough water. It is estimated that 75% of Americans don't drink enough water. The average amount of water a person should be drinking is 64 ounces, more for larger people and less for smaller people. I wasn't sure what to attribute a recent bout of headaches to before I learned this connection. The headaches had followed a long ride in a car that didn't have air conditioning when I was already thirsty.

Insomnia and Dehydration

Melatonin deficiency is a side effect of dehydration. Melatonin regulates sleeping patterns. This is the reason that drinking alcohol is a poor coping mechanism for insomnia. Some may confuse the memory loss caused by alcohol as a sign of a deep sleep, but alcohol is actually disruptive to sleep and results in poor sleep quality.

Other Effects of Dehydration

Dehydration can increase the chance of developing an unpleasant urinary tract infection. After the UTI develops it is difficult to rehydrate the body because urination is painful. An IV is helpful in treating this type of infection. A long term habit of not drinking enough water, for example in the case of someone who almost exclusively drinks caffeinated drinks, can result in kidney stones which are extremely painful to pass.

Minimum Recommended Water Intake by Weight

Recommended Water Intake
90 lbs
36 ounces
100 lbs
40 ounces
110 lbs
44 ounces
120 lbs
48 ounces
130 lbs
52 ounces
140 lbs
56 ounces
150 lbs
60 ounces
160 lbs
64 ounces
170 lbs
68 ounces
180 lbs
72 ounces
190 lbs
76 ounces
200 lbs
80 ounces
210 lbs
84 ounces
If you really can't stand water, fruit juice and vegetable juice have high water content although they aren't zero calorie and sugar-free like water.  Even milkshakes can help you rehydrate your body.
If you really can't stand water, fruit juice and vegetable juice have high water content although they aren't zero calorie and sugar-free like water. Even milkshakes can help you rehydrate your body.

Preventing and Treating Dehydration

How to Prevent Dehydration

Drinking enough water is the only way to prevent dehydration, but remember that it is possible to drink enough water that it becomes toxic and fatal, so only drink water to replenish water that you are losing through sweating or other means. In 2005 a student died during fraternity hazing that involved drinking massive amounts of water.

Treating Dehydration

Minor dehydration is treated by drinking water. More severe dehydration requires an IV to replenish water and electrolytes.

Benefits of Staying Hydrated

In addition to avoiding the negative symptoms of dehydration, drinking plenty of water has other positive effects. It can decrease hunger and replace calorie-heavy beverages which is helpful if you are trying to lose weight. Drinking enough water also makes your skin look healthier and leaves you feeling more energetic and alert.


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