10 warning signs of dehydration

by Kaiser Permanente |

What do you think is more essential: Food or water? While we tend to focus a lot of our time and energy on food — deciding what to eat for lunch or make for dinner — water is essential. In fact, we can go up to 3 weeks without food but wouldn’t last more than 3 or 4 days without water.

"Hydration is necessary for survival," explains Ronald A. Navarro, MD, Kaiser Permanente’s coordinating chief of orthopedic surgery for Southern California." The cells in our bodies contain water and are surrounded by water. When we’re dehydrated, these cells are less permeable, which means they have trouble absorbing nutrients and removing waste."

The benefits of hydration

When you drink enough water, you’re helping your body function at its best. You may even experience some impressive health benefits, which can include the following.

Keeping cool

When you overheat — whether it’s because of a sunny day, an intense workout, or a fever — your body produces sweat to cool down. Sweat is mostly made of water, so your body needs to stay hydrated to help you stay nice and cool.

Getting muscles and joints to work at peak performance

Because your cells work better when fully hydrated, it can increase your body’s ability to perform. Water also helps lubricate your joints, making it easier to move.

Helping control weight

"We often mistake thirst for hunger," says Dr. Navarro. "Drinking enough water may help us avoid misplaced urges that tell us to eat when we don’t need to."

Preventing constipation

People who are well-hydrated usually have regular bowel movements. Hard bowel movements or constipation can be a sign that you aren’t getting enough water — or fiber.

So how much water do you need to drink per day? The short answer: It depends.

"The most common recommendation is to drink 8 ounces of water 6 or 8 times a day, every day," explains Dr. Navarro." However, some adults may need more or less, depending on their overall health. Factors like illness and medications can affect how much water you may need. You should also take into account how much you exercise, the level of intensity, and how hot and dry the weather is."

Warning signs of dehydration

Not sure if you’re dehydrated? One of the easiest ways to tell is by checking the color of your urine. If it looks clear or pale yellow, then you’re drinking enough water. But if your urine is a darker yellow or an amber color, then it’s time to hydrate.

Other warning signs of dehydration can include:

  • Bad breath
  • Decreased amount of urine
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Sluggishness and fatigue
  • Sugar cravings

And if you’re feeling any of the following more severe dehydration symptoms, seek medical attention right away:

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations

Causes of dehydration

How do we get dehydrated? The most common cause is not drinking enough water throughout the day — but things like hot weather, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, and working out are other factors. There are also less common causes of dehydration to keep an eye out for — like stress, certain medications, aging, high altitudes, and burns (including sunburns).

Are you drinking enough water?

Find out how to keep your body in balance and hydrated. And talk to your doctor if you have any questions.