Almost everyone suffers from headaches from time to time, and we all have different ways of dealing with them. In reality, there are many factors that can cause this (sometimes literal) pain in the neck. Nevertheless, a large portion of the population opts for what they consider the quick and easy solution: medication.
Interestingly, often when the cause is unknown, the recommended treatment is also the most simple, cheap, and safe one: drinking water. That being said, headaches caused by tension or other medical reasons may require a different treatment. In any case, it never hurts to stay hydrated.
This is because dehydration can cause headaches, as well as other symptoms. So sometimes taking a Tylenol, ibuprofen, or another anti-inflammatory medicine doesn’t solve the problem. In fact, if dehydration is the reason for your headache, and the pain eases after taking medication, the water you took it with may have been more helpful than the medication itself.
Identifying dehydration headaches
A dehydration headache is a secondary headache, caused by a lack of body fluid. They can range from relatively mild to as severe as a migraine.
This is because our bodies require the right balance of liquids and electrolytes to function correctly. Our bodies lose fluid in many ways every day, such as by sweating and urinating. Thus, dehydration headaches can occur after sweating, or when our bodies lose essential fluids. Fluid loss can be caused by vigorous exercise or being in a hot climate. Of course, these headaches can also occur if you simply don’t drink enough liquids.
Most of the time, drinking liquids or eating fluid-rich foods easily restores the fluid balance. However, sometimes the body loses water faster than it can be replenished.
When your body is dehydrated, the brain contracts or shrinks temporarily due to fluid loss. This can cause a separation between the brain and the skull, causing pain and a dehydration headache as a result. The brain returns to its normal state once it’s rehydrated, relieving the headache.
Symptoms of a dehydration headache
Dehydration headaches can feel like a dull headache or an intense migraine. This pain can occur on the front, back, sides, or the entire head.
Unlike sinus headaches, a person experiencing a dehydration headache probably won’t experience facial pressure or pain. They are also unlikely to have pain in the back of their neck, as tension headaches can cause.
The following are symptoms that can coincide with dehydration headaches:
- Reduced urination.
- Dark urine.
- Dry, sticky mouth.
- Loss of skin elasticity.
- Low blood pressure.
- Increased heart rate.
Some people only experience headaches when they are severely dehydrated. They may also experience additional symptoms such as lack of sweating, fever, sunken eyes, and shriveled skin, among others.
Preventing dehydration headaches
Staying well hydrated is the best way to prevent headaches caused by dehydration. If you frequently suffer from headaches, this preventive measure can greatly improve your quality of life. But how much water should you drink to stay well hydrated? The temperature, your activity level, and your own body weight can influence how much water you need to drink every day.
Mobile apps are a great way to help you remember to drink enough water, and there are many free apps available. Find one that uses your weight, activity level, and the temperature to calculate the amount of water you need. By keeping track of the liquids you drink during the day, you can make sure you’re getting the recommended amount.
When headaches have another cause
Tension, poor posture, and stress often cause headaches, among other factors. Regular physical activity and relaxation exercises are two great ways to prevent or relieve headaches. Personally, I recommend an option that combines both: practicing yoga.
In either case, if the pain persists, increases in intensity, or is extreme, visit your doctor to determine the cause of your headache. Remember that, no matter the reason why you have a headache, it’s important to tackle the root cause and also that medications in general only relieve symptoms.