How are headaches and dehydration related?

There are many different factors that can cause a headache. Here we are going to discuss how dehydration is a common cause, though often overlooked. 

Headaches can affect each of us in different ways and are classified into various types. Dehydration is believed to be a contributing factor to some headaches with the most common being tension-type headaches and migraines. 

What happens to our bodies when they are dehydrated?

Without a daily intake of water, our bodies wouldn’t be able to function properly and we wouldn’t be able to survive. Water makes up over two-thirds of a healthy human body and plays a crucial role in carrying nutrients and waste products between major organs, regulating body temperature, lubricating joints, flushing out toxins and keeping the skin healthy. Every cell and every function depends on water so it is important to make sure you are hydrated. 

The first symptoms of dehydration are usually thirst and dry mouth. However, other symptoms may develop too, such as headache, fatigue, weakness, constipation, parched lips, dizziness, and rapid heartbeat. When a person becomes dehydrated, it is not only water that is lost: salts, such as sodium and potassium, which are important for your body, are depleted as well. 

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Drinks that can cause dehydration

Water is regarded as the best drink to ensure good hydration. Other drinks, such as alcohol and coffee, are diuretics, which means that they can dehydrate you rather than hydrate. 

Coffee and other caffeinated drinks have been linked as a trigger for headaches and migraines. If you are a regular coffee or tea drinker, it’s best to cut down on your caffeine consumption slowly, as abruptly cutting out caffeine altogether may also lead to headaches. 

Alcohol is a diuretic, which means that it actually removes fluids from the body and drinking too much can lead to dehydration. This is what causes many of the symptoms we associate with a hangover. If you decide to drink the best thing to do is limit how much alcohol you consume, alternate with non-alcoholic drinks and drink plenty of water the next day to rehydrate your body. 

Preventing dehydration; how much water do we need?

Drink as much water as you need to prevent feeling thirsty throughout the day. 

As a rule of thumb, drinking enough water so your urine is always a light yellow or colourless; this is a sign of good hydration. 

Anything that increases perspiration, such as warm weather, physical activity and high altitude, will increase your fluid needs and you may require more than the amount usually recommended. 

Keep in mind that consuming more fruit and vegetables is a way to increase your fluid intake – but it is not an alternative to drinking water. 

Seek shade when it is hot out or protect yourself with an umbrella. Plan outside activities for cooler parts of the day, and drink plenty of water in advance of any event. 

In cold weather, particularly winter, you may feel less thirsty, but it is still just as important to drink an adequate amount. 

The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends an intake of two and a half litres of water for men and two litres of water for women per day. This only applies to conditions of moderate environmental temperature and moderate physical activity levels, via food and drink. Many issues alter an individual’s fluids needs, and the advice offered by the NHS is simply to drink plenty of water. 

Treating Headaches

Headaches triggered or caused by insufficient water intake are of course best treated by rehydrating yourself. However, you can also treat headaches with a pain reliever as well. A product such as Nurofen Express 200mg Liquid Capsules may be effective in this case. 

On balance, headache prevention is surely preferable to suffering a headache. So keeping well hydrated could be one simple way to suffer less of them. 

If you are in any doubt about your headaches, always get advice from a doctor and/or a pharmacist. If your headache has resulted following a head injury, if it becomes severe, or if you experience visual problems, fever, nausea or slurred speech, seek urgent medical attention.