Think you’re getting enough water? Chances are that you’re not. Studies show that three-quarters of Americans don’t drink enough fluids to keep their bodies healthy and running well.
Your body is made up of 60 percent water, and being properly hydrated helps your muscles, liver, and kidneys function. It’s also important for the general health of your hair, skin, nails, and immune system. If you don’t get enough water, your body becomes dehydrated.
People who work out hard, very young kids, older adults, people on certain medications like diuretics and blood pressure medications, and those who have been ill from a stomach virus or fever are more vulnerable to becoming dehydrated. Additionally, as the summer months roll in, the increasing heat and humidity compound any underlying hydration complications.
Dehydration can be treated quickly and effectively, but the key is to know the signs. Mild dehydration can start as a dull and benign headache, but if you let it go too far, things can become super serious—and even life threatening—fast.
Here are the ways that you can tell if you’re dehydrated—and at what point you should be concerned.
Your urine is dark yellow.
The color of your urine is a good way to judge your hydration levels. If you’re well hydrated, it should look watered down and slightly yellow.
The darker it appears, the more dehydrated you are. If it starts looking like the color of apple juice (with a little brownish tint), that’s not a good sign.
You feel dizzy.
Dark urine is a sure sign of mild to moderate dehydration, but if you also start feeling faint or dizzy (like you can’t stand or walk properly) you probably have passed the mild stage and are moving toward a more serious issue.
Low blood pressure and increased heart rate combined with decreased blood flow to the brain can make you feel woozy. It can also make you feel foggy headed and unable to concentrate.
It’s been a long time since you’ve urinated.
Can you think back and remember the last time that you went to the bathroom? If you can’t recall or if it’s been several hours, that’s a sign that your body is trying to retain as much water as possible in fear that it won’t be getting more any time soon.
That’s your body’s natural defenses kicking in, and it will continue to hold on to that water until you start drinking.
You’re mouth is pasty and you’re thirsty.
When your body is dehydrated, your mouth can’t make enough saliva, which results in a dry, parched mouth and intense thirst.
This is usually one of the first indicators of dehydration, but it can’t be totally relied on because some people—especially older adults—don’t feel thirsty until they’re already well into being dehydrated.
You have bad breath.
If you aren’t making enough saliva, it’s going to be problematic for your mouth. Saliva has antibacterial properties that keep bacteria, viruses, and other nasties from invading your oral space.
This can cause bad breath and a host of other mouth concerns, including sores and excessive wear and tear on tooth enamel.
Your skin is dry.
Many people think that it’s the sweaty ones who get dehydrated (because they’ve lost so much fluid), but the opposite is actually true. As you become increasingly more dehydrated there’s not enough water in your body to hydrate your skin so it becomes dry and parched—much like your mouth.
If it’s hot out and your skin is dry and not evaporating sweat to keep you cool, you can become pink and flushed, especially in the face. It’s important also to note that if your skin’s elasticity has changed (when you pinch your skin it takes a weirdly long time to go back to its original position), it’s time to be concerned.
Your heart is racing.
Water adds to the fluid in the blood and keeps your circulation normal. When there’s not enough fluid in your blood, your heart rate will speed up to compensate for the lack of blood getting to your brain.
Your blood pressure will usually return to normal when you rehydrate.
Your head hurts.
Your brain is housed within a sac called the dura mater that helps to hold in fluid to keep your brain cushioned and prevent it from bumping into your skull. But these protective functions are dependent on hydration levels to stay normal.
If your body’s water levels are running low because you’re dehydrated, your brain can become less cushioned, which can cause it to push up against your skull and give you a headache. Additionally, low levels of water can also decrease the amount of serotonin in your body, leading your head to ache even more.
You have fever and chills.
As your body becomes increasingly more dehydrated, it starts to conserve the water for the most important bodily functions and limits blood flow to the skin—causing you to get the chills. Additionally, the water in your body also holds the heat in your body.
If you’re not holding on to heat properly, your body will have trouble regulating its temperature. You may experience not only chills but also fever in response. Fever can be dangerous, so it’s important to seek medical attention if you have the other signs of dehydration along with a fever of 101 degrees or more.
Your muscles start cramping.
As you get hotter, your muscles work harder and require more blood. If you’re dehydrated, your body sends the important fluids to vital organs—and away from muscles (which are not as important in this case).
This can cause them to cramp. Additionally, as you sweat more it causes a change in sodium and potassium levels. If you’re not replacing these micronutrients through proper fluid intake, your muscles can cramp even more.
You’re feeling low in energy.
When your heart rate rises and your blood pressure lowers, your body starts protecting itself by forcing you to rest. The way it does this is by making you tired. Studies show that even mild dehydration can affect your energy level.
Researchers tested athletic performance in people who were just 2 percent dehydrated and found a surprising 10 percent decrease in athletic performance. They also found that the more dehydrated a person became, the worse they performed athletically.
You’re craving sweet foods.
When you don’t have enough water in your system it is hard for nutrients and your liver to release glycogens and other components that give you energy. This can cause your body to seek other sources of energy and make you crave food—mostly in the form of sweets.
When you exercise even in a mildly dehydrated state, you use more stored carbohydrates and at a faster rate. This will cause you to crave carbs after your workout to replace the stores. So what you’re essentially doing is eating more calories when really all you needed was water.
You’re having seizures and confusion and you can’t remember when you last urinated.
If this is happening to you, this is a medical emergency, and you must find a way to get to the emergency room as soon as possible. These are symptoms of critically serious dehydration and they can be life threatening.
Under no circumstances should you drive yourself in this condition. If you don’t have a friend or family member available to drive you, call 911.