Signs That You're Dehydrated and How to Prevent It
How many times have you heard the advice to “drink more water?” Although we know we probably should be consuming more water on a daily basis, it’s usually easier said than done. Plus, it’s hard to know how much is enough, and whether it’s possible to drink too much.
“The recommended daily intake of water is based on your body weight—for most adults, 60-80 oz/day (8-10 cups total or roughly ½ gallon) is recommended, but often more is needed, especially if you sweat frequently or live in a warmer climate,” explains Dr. Linda Anegawa, MD, a physician at the virtual health platform PlushCare. “I often recommend increased water intake for other individuals as well, such as if you have medical problems like kidney stones or gout, which can be worsened with dehydration. Certain medicines can worsen dehydration such as diuretics for blood pressure, so increased water is needed to compensate.” Additionally, Anegawa sees patients interested in low-carb eating, like the ketogenic diet, and because there is extra urination resulting from nutritional ketosis, she recommends additional water daily for patients on diets like keto.
What are the benefits of staying hydrated?
About 60% of our body is made up of water, where water is the major component to every single body part—you can even find water in your bones. Staying hydrated is key when it comes to allowing our bodies to properly function. “The benefits of staying hydrated include improving blood flow and circulation, improving kidney function, improving blood pressure, improving muscle tightness and tension, preventing fatigue, preventing dry and brittle hair, nails and skin, preventing fine wrinkles and preventing premature aging,” says Ehsan Ali, MD, a physician at Beverly Hills Concierge Doctor.
Additionally, water helps ensure that wastes are removed efficiently, body temperature is regulated through sweating, and that hormones and signaling molecules (needed by the nervous system) are produced. “Hydration is also critical for disease-fighting antibodies and white cells in the blood to do their job of protecting us from germs like COVID-19,” says Anegawa.
What are some signs that you might be dehydrated?
Because we need so much water, dehydration can happen relatively quickly before we even realize it. “Dehydration simply means that our water intake is not adequate for our body’s needs,” says Anegawa. “Initial symptoms may include only mild fatigue, but then progress to thirst, and muscle cramps.”
According to Ali, the most obvious signs of dehydration include not urinating often enough, dark yellow urine or urinating only a small amount, dry skin, dry mouth, feeling excessively thirsty, and fatigue.
When your urine is dark yellow or you’re not urinating frequently enough, it’s because your body is signaling to your kidneys to begin to conserve water. “Some individuals note that they feel more hungry if dehydrated, but the hunger disappears with water drinking,” explains Anegawa. “If the dehydration is not addressed and fluid loss is severe, more advanced symptoms include fainting, abdominal pain, chest pain, rapid shallow breathing, or even confusion.”
Once you become dehydrated, it can take a while to catch-up. This is because after drinking water, fluids initially enter our circulatory system. From there, the fluid is partitioned out into other body tissues, which will temporarily drop the fluid content in our circulation. “So even if you drink a large quantity of water, more may be needed to ensure proper rehydration, not just of the circulation, but all bodily tissues,” says Anegawa. “Over the long term, chronic dehydration can lead to multiple problems such as impaired kidney function and headaches.”
Can you drink too much water?
Yes, it is possible to drink too much water, but the likelihood is rare. “Drinking too much water can actually lead to a condition called ‘water intoxication’ in which excess water dilutes out important blood electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, magnesium, and calcium,” says Anegawa. “The worst complications of water intoxication include heart arrhythmias and even fatal brain swelling. However, this is extremely rare and you’d have to drink extreme amounts of water (i.e. an excess of 1-2 gallons daily, which is difficult to do) to experience water intoxication.”
Tips for staying hydrated throughout the day
Both doctors recommend keeping a water bottle with you at all times throughout the day. “I counsel patients to keep water bottles everywhere you are, that way, you’ll have a visual reminder to take small sips on a regular basis,” says Anegawa. She advises keeping multiple water bottles in places you frequent, including the kitchen, your home office, and the car.
Additionally, “adequate salt in the diet will help stimulate thirst, and despite the bad reputation that salt has, it’s not always a negative,” she says. If you’re not a big water drinker because you don’t love the taste, Anegawa suggests flavoring water with a twist of lemon or lime.
Don’t forget to stay extra hydrated while out in the sun all day, exercising and/or sweating a lot, when in hot conditions (like the sauna or hot yoga), and playing sports outside on a hot day—these are all surefire ways to decrease hydration levels fast.