10 signs of dehydration

by Kaiser Permanente |
Person drinking water from bottle outside

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 only 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.” Recognizing the signs of dehydration is key to preventing it and staying healthy.

Signs of dehydration

How can you tell if you’re dehydrated? Start by checking the color of your urine. Clear or pale yellow urine usually means you’re drinking enough water. But if your urine is dark yellow or amber, then it’s time to drink more water.

Other signs of dehydration to watch for include:

  • Bad breath
  • Less urine than usual
  • Dry mouth and swollen tongue
  • Feeling sluggish or tired
  • Cravings for sweets

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

  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Fainting
  • Heart palpitations

Causes of dehydration

Dehydration can happen for several reasons. The most common cause is not drinking enough water throughout the day. Other common factors include hot weather, drinking too much caffeine or alcohol, and physical activity. There are also less common causes of dehydration to keep an eye out for — like stress, certain medications, aging, high altitudes, and having skin burns, including sunburns.

Benefits of hydration

When you drink enough water, you’re helping your body function at its best. Here are a few ways it helps.

Keeping cool

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

Getting muscles and joints to work at their best

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

Helping control apetite

“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 should you drink each 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.”

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.