7 Signs and Symptoms of Dehydration—and How to Treat It
Thirst—duh. And yes, dark pee means you need to drink up. But your breath, mood, and need for sweets may also be telling you you’re dehydrated.
What is dehydration?
You need to know what dehydration is before you can spot dehydration symptoms. Dehydration happens when people lose more fluid than they take in, according to Mayo Clinic. At the same time, your body also doesn’t have enough water and other liquids to replace these fluids. Keep an eye out for the following signs of dehydration.
You have stinky breath
Saliva works 24-7 to wash away food particles that collect on your tongue, between your teeth, and along your gums after you eat. If your mouth is dry, those itty bitty leftovers allow bacteria to grow, thrive, and give you bad breath, one of the signs of dehydration. Sip water throughout the day to help keep your mouth moist. And if you need a little extra freshening: chewing gum (preferably sugarless) or sucking candy (also sugarless) helps stimulate saliva. Here are some tips for staying hydrated throughout the day.
Researchers at the University of Connecticut’s Human Performance Laboratory tested the mood and concentration of 25 women who drank healthy amounts of water one day and then didn’t over the next two days. When slightly dehydrated, the women reported fatigue, irritability, headaches, and difficulty focusing. In a separate test, men with mild dehydration also had fatigue and trouble with mental tasks. But when it came to mood changes, women’s soured much more than men’s, according to the study. Scientists are still trying to figure out why. (Good luck with that.) These are the myths about hydration you need to stop believing right now.
You crave cookies
You might mistake needing to drink for wanting to nosh, especially after exercise. “After a strenuous session, we are not only dehydrated, but our glycogen stores are depleted,” says Kim Larson, RDN, sports dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. Glycogen is a form of stored carbohydrates that our body uses as fuel; the cravings are just our bodies telling us we need more of it and is one of the signs of dehydration. “Not everyone wants sugar after exercising, but when you are tired, it’s tempting to reach for it!” says Larson. Better choices: Fruits and dairy foods deliver the quickest, most nutrient-rich carbohydrates to supply energy when glycogen stores are low; plus, many fruits and yogurt have a high water content to also help you rehydrate. You don’t have to worry about dehydration symptoms once you do start drinking enough water. Plus, drinking enough water changes your body.
Your skin does this weird “tent-ing” thing
Pinch the back of your hand and hold for a few seconds; when you let go, your skin should snap back into position pretty quickly. If it’s slow to return to normal, take that as one of the signs of dehydration. “Skin turgor—a measure of skin elasticity—begins to decrease with a fluid loss of about 5 percent, which is considered mild dehydration,” explains Chris G. Adigun, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. With more moderate or severe dehydration, the pinched-up skin will remain “tented” in place. Why else should you stay hydrated? To help you look younger. “Especially as we age, the visible appearance of the skin of the face improves with superb hydration,” adds Adigun. If you need even more motivation to stay hydrated, check out these health benefits of drinking enough water during the day.
You have a crappy workout
Dehydration reduces blood pressure and makes the heart work harder, which impacts how much you can push yourself, explains Larson. “Even a 2 to 3 percent fluid loss affects your ability to get a good workout,” she says; “and more than 5 percent dehydration decreases exercise capacity by about 30 percent.” A no-brainer way to avoid dehydration and dehydration symptoms is to aim for this much water per day.
You drive like you’re drunk
You pee before you hit the road and barely sip your bottle of water en route, all in the name of avoiding pit stops. We get it. But according to research published in Physiology and Behavior, driving while dehydrated may be just as dangerous as getting behind the wheel intoxicated, in terms of how many mistakes you could make on the road. British researchers had study participants take two-hour drives (using a simulator): when they were well-hydrated, there were 47 driving errors; dehydrated, slips-up—including lane drifting and late braking—more than doubled to 101. Dehydration causes fatigue and affects our cognitive abilities, like clear thinking and reaction time, says Larson.
You feel woozy when you stand too fast
One of the signs of dehydration is when your blood volume and pressure drops, which can leave you feeling dizzy or faint, or bring on that rush of light-headedness after you quickly get up from sitting or lying down. Feeling parched all day? These are the 8 unexpected reasons you’re always thirsty.
How do you treat dehydration?
To get rid of dehydration you have to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. The exact treatment for dehydration symptoms depends on age and how severely dehydrated someone is, per Mayo Clinic. In extreme cases, people might go to the hospital for an IV of salts and fluids. Most of the time, however, people use some over-the-counter solutions for kids, and adults can drink more water. Just make sure you’re not refilling a plastic water bottle—ever.