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What Does a Dehydration Headache Feel Like? Plus How to Hydrate

While there are many types of headaches and possible triggers, dehydration is a common cause for the excruciating pain in your head.

Now, you’re curious — what does a dehydration headache feel like? How do you know that your headache has to do with your hydration status? Keep reading as we break down what a dehydration headache actually is, what it’s like, the science behind it, and tips for management and prevention.

Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?

A dehydration headache is when you experience pain in the head or migraine due to dehydration.

As of this publishing date, the International Classification of Headache Disorders 3rd edition (ICHD-3) does not explicitly classify dehydration as a primary cause of headaches. However, they recognize it may cause a "secondary headache attributed to disorders of homeostasis".

In other words, the link between dehydration and headache has something to do with the disruption of the body’s internal balance. Fluid and electrolyte balance is a good example.

Keep in mind, the lack of official recognition of dehydration headaches doesn't mean that your experience isn't valid or real.

In fact, the American Headache Society, American Migraine Foundation, and Migraine Trust recognize dehydration as a possible trigger for headaches and migraines. They also recommend that anyone experiencing headaches should make sure they get enough fluids.

It's also worth noting that dehydration headaches may result from "brain dehydration," resulting in pressure to pain-sensitive meninges (layers of tissue surrounding the brain) and blood vessels as the brain contracts.

Brain dehydration happens when your brain structure is altered due to low fluid levels. Dehydration could negatively impact cognitively engaging tasks as your brain works harder than usual.

Plus, the lack of electrolytes in the body when you're dehydrated can deprive your brain of the same electrolytes vital to brain and nervous functions.

Finally, research on water-deprivation headaches and whether or not fluid consumption can help relieve headaches revealed the following interesting findings:

  • About 2 cups of water relieved the headache for 22 subjects (out of 34) within a half-hour.

  • Eleven of the research subjects felt total relief 1 to 3 hours later after consuming 3 cups of water.

However, if you're experiencing dehydration headaches, you should know that drinking plenty of water isn't enough.

What Does a Dehydration Headache Feel Like?

A dehydration headache can feel different for everyone. For some, the pain resembles intense migraines, and others experience it as a dull, tension-like headache in the front of the head.

Where exactly do you feel dehydration headache? You can get dehydration headaches at the front, back, or the side of the head. Sometimes, you will feel it in the entire head.

In the small study of water-deprivation headache mentioned earlier, the participants who experienced headache relief from drinking water described their headache as pain that got worse when they bent down, walked around, or moved their heads.

Moreover, observational studies indicate that dehydration can trigger a migraine and prolong migraine symptoms.

So, what does a dehydration headache feel like? The experience varies for each person – from a dull, annoying tension headache to deep pressure within your head, with one side throbbing. You may also feel nauseated, experience a visual aura, or be extra sensitive to light and sound.

Unlike sinus headaches, there is no facial pain or pressure with dehydration headaches. You are also less likely to feel pain at the back of the neck, as it might with tension headaches.

Dehydration headache symptoms are more than just the discomfort of pounding head pain. Signs of dehydration like these can also accompany this type of headache:

  • Extreme thirst

  • Dry skin

  • Dry, sticky mouth

  • Dark colored urine or low urine output

  • Muscle cramps

  • Heat cramps

  • Feeling faint or dizzy

  • Nausea

  • Low blood pressure

  • Fatigue

For headaches due to mild to moderate dehydration, don’t just limit yourself to drinking water as a way to hydrate. Water doesn’t give you the electrolytes you need to replace those you’ve lost. Instead, increase your fluid intake while getting needed electrolytes.

If you experience severe dehydration, promptly seek medical attention.

How to Manage a Dehydration Headache

Now that you already know what a dehydration headache feels like, your next step is to learn how to get dehydration relief. For general headache relief, you can also take pain relievers like ibuprofen. However, managing dehydration headaches starts with understanding how dehydration happens.

Dehydration is a result of fluid and electrolyte loss in the body. Again, the most common causes of dehydration are excessive sweating, engaging in intense physical activities, and heat-related illnesses like heat exhaustion.

You can also get dehydrated by simply forgetting to drink enough fluids or anything that makes you vomit or sweat — these result in a rapid loss of fluids.

Vomiting, nausea, and fever can also increase your chances of getting dehydrated. Finally, the following groups are at risk of dehydration:

With this knowledge, you'll realize that the most important thing you can do to manage dehydration is to address fluid and electrolyte loss from mild to moderate dehydration.

When you’re dehydrated, reach for a solution like DripDrop. Here’s why:

  • It contains the medically relevant sodium electrolyte levels and lower glucose content required for dehydration relief.

  • The patented formula has a low-osmolarity formula that facilitates fast absorption. DripDrop's patented formula is just 220 mosm/L. This is even lower than the WHO ORS formula (245 msom/L) and a lot lower than traditional sports drinks (300+ msom/L).

  • DripDrop tastes great without compromising on efficacy. That means you’ll actually want to drink it when you need it!

How to Prevent Headaches from Dehydration

The best way to stop dehydration headaches in its tracks is to make sure you're getting more fluids and electrolytes than you're losing through the following:

  • Drink fluids and increase your water intake until your urine color is clear or light yellow.

  • Seek out shade and avoid engaging in highly strenuous activities during hot weather.

  • Carry a reusable water bottle and electrolyte packets like DripDrop everywhere you go.

Dehydration is a result of losing fluids and electrolytes faster than you're replacing. Reaching for a glass of water isn't enough. Your body needs electrolytes like sodium, potassium, and magnesium. You need to address fluid and electrolyte loss quickly to avoid dehydration symptoms like a headache.

Get started with our most popular multi-flavor pouch for dehydration relief fast. Or, learn more about how you can save up to 25% on every purchase when you subscribe.