In this article:
Water makes life possible, and one cannot survive without it for more than a few days. It makes up nearly 75% of a baby’s body weight and 55% of an elderly’s body weight. (1) It is used by the body to perform various life-sustaining physiological functions down to the cellular level.
Thus, you need to maintain proper water intake to keep your body running smoothly and in the best state. Conversely, if you don’t get enough water in your system, it will impair both your physical and mental health in numerous ways.
Dehydration occurs when your body loses water faster than it can replace it to maintain optimum levels.
Your body mainly loses water daily through sweating and urination, and this loss is compensated by the water and fluids you consume. If you continue to lose water from the body but don’t drink enough to replace it, a water deficit will occur, resulting in dehydration.
Moreover, diarrhea and vomiting can expel huge amounts of water from the body in a short time and can cause extreme dehydration.
Important Signs of Dehydration
It is very common for people to suffer from some degree of dehydration without even realizing it as they are largely unaware of the wide range of symptoms it can manifest.
Here are some of the major signs of dehydration that you need to look out for:
1. Dry mouth and thirst
The predominant sign of dehydration is a dry mouth that is accompanied by a strong feeling of thirst. The lack of water increases the fluid osmotic pressure in the body, which stimulates the thirst center in the hypothalamus to trigger these symptoms. (4)
2. Headaches and migraines
Mild to moderate dehydration is known to trigger headaches, including migraines, in a lot of people.
The role of dehydration in causing headaches is not clearly understood yet, but it is suggested that low fluid intake renders your brain dehydrated. This causes the brain muscle to tighten and exert pressure on the pain-sensitive meninges to trigger a headache. (2)
A 2021 research study recommended drinking plenty of water to alleviate such headaches while avoiding sugary or extra-salty drinks that can exacerbate dehydration, although more supporting evidence is needed to support this claim. (2)
Moreover, a 2020 study showed that women with a higher water intake (around 2 L daily) experienced a decline in the severity, duration, and frequency of migraine attacks, as well as the disability associated with them, than those with a lower water intake. (5)
3. Bad breath
Saliva keeps your mouth lubricated and contains enzymes that dissolve the food debris stuck between your teeth to prevent bacterial overgrowth.
Inadequate fluid intake hinders the body’s ability to produce enough saliva to keep the mouth clean and moist. The lack of saliva means more food debris accumulates in the mouth. Bacteria feed on these food particles, releasing foul-smelling sulfur compounds that are responsible for bad breath. (6)
Your body needs water to facilitate proper bowel movement, and dehydration can hinder this process by causing constipation.
When the food reaches the stomach, it mixes with gastric juices and acids that break it down to its nutrient components that are absorbed by the body.
Meanwhile, the undigested food is pushed into the large intestine along with fluids. The large intestine soaks up the water from this waste material to form semisolid stools that are finally excreted via the anus.
If your body lacks water, the large intestine will start absorbing water from the food waste, resulting in dry hard stools that are difficult to pass. (7)
5. Dry skin
Skin derives moisture from the environment as well as the body to remain soft, supple, and elastic.
Dry skin, on the other hand, tends to tear easily when stretched due to the lack of elasticity, which compromises its barrier function and paves the way for wrinkles, fine lines, and other signs of premature skin aging. Plus, it feels rough and looks dull.
It is completely normal for the skin to turn dry during winters or in arid terrains due to the lack of moisture in the air. But if your skin is constantly dry regardless of the weather and does not improve even after daily moisturizing, it could be a sign of dehydration.
This simply means that your body doesn’t have enough water to impart moisture to the skin. A dehydrated body leads to dehydrated skin. (8)
6. Confusion, tiredness, change in sleep patterns, reduced vigor, fatigue, and mood changes
Not getting enough water and fluids into your body can negatively impact your mood, cognitive functioning, energy levels, and sleep quality.
It can make you feel dazed, out of focus, and lightheaded, which can make you clumsy and prone to accidents. In extreme cases, you may experience palpitations, severe lethargy, confusion, and sometimes even seizures. (1)(9)
7. Urinary tract infections
The water that you consume is used by the body to flush out toxins and waste in the form of urine. Low water intake makes your urine concentrated and darker than usual while also reducing your overall urine output.
Proper urine flow also helps remove bacteria from the urinary tract to prevent infections. Dehydration reduces urine flow, which allows bacteria to grow inside the urinary tract, ultimately causing an infection.
8. Cravings for salty food and snacks
If you find yourself craving salty or sugary foods even though your stomach is full, it can be a sign of dehydration. This is because the brain often mistakes thirst for hunger and makes you crave food when, in fact, what you need is water.
So, if you are suddenly overcome with hunger pangs after having eaten recently, drink some water and see if the feeling subsides.
The special need for salty foods in this situation can be explained by the fact that dehydration causes loss of electrolytes from the body, which includes sodium. The body tries to make up for this loss through salt consumption.
But instead of eating sodium-rich foods, you should consider drinking a sports beverage that contains sodium or make your own salty beverage by mixing some fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of salt in a glass of water. (13)
This will help restore both water as well as sodium to your body, thereby reducing dehydration and correcting the electrolyte imbalance, respectively.
9. Muscle and joint pain
Joints and cartilage are made up of 80% water, which keeps them moist and flexible. This allows the bones to glide smoothly over each other for free and easy movement.
However, dehydration can reduce this lubrication and cause increased friction between bones, resulting in skeletal damage and joint pain, especially during physically demanding activities.
10. Accelerated heartbeat
The adverse impact of low water intake on heart health is not clearly understood, but it is suggested that dehydration can inhibit blood flow and hamper blood pressure regulation, causing a rapid heart rate. (17)
A lack of water in the body leads to electrolyte imbalance, which causes low blood pressure. Your body is under stress, which makes your heart beat faster and can even trigger anxiety or panic attacks.
If your heart beating starts racing suddenly, drink water, taking slow sips, and observe if your condition improves. If that doesn’t work, consult your doctor immediately.
11. Weight gain
If you suddenly start gaining weight without any change in your eating habits or other discernible factors, the reason could be dehydration. Water intake positively affects your metabolism rate, which means your body is able to burn calories faster.
Some studies have demonstrated that even consuming as little as 500 ml or 17 ounces of water can increase your metabolism rate by up to 30%. Nutritionists and fitness experts often recommend increasing one’s water intake along with other measures to lose extra weight and maintain a healthy weight. (1)
What Is the Daily Recommended Water Intake?
The daily recommended intake of water can vary from person to person depending on age, body type, physical activity, and overall health, among other factors. Unlike nutrients, there is no clear definition of how much water one needs to drink daily that is accepted all over the world.
According to the “Dietary Guidelines for Americans 2010” report, men between the ages of 19 and 30 years should consume at least 3.7 L per day, whereas women in the same age bracket should drink 2.7 L of water per day.
Meanwhile, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends that men should drink 2.5 L of water per day, whereas women should consume 2 L per day. (18)
When to See a Doctor
Seek immediate medical help if you experience:
- Accelerated or weak pulse
- Severe unquenchable thirst
- Unexplained bouts of dizziness, confusion, or fainting spells
- A sudden drop in urination
Most people fail to consume enough water daily and live with mild to moderate dehydration, which subtly but adversely impacts their overall health. They may fail to notice the problem at first since it does not produce any direct or prominent symptoms, but it will only get worse with time.
If your body remains dehydrated over a long period, it will put a strain on your organs and hamper your bodily functions, causing physical and mental distress and disease.
So, it is important to educate yourself about the signs of dehydration so that you can catch and correct it in the early stages before it leads to anything serious.