EVER HEARD OF DEHYDRATION HEADACHES? WHAT IS IT?
A week or so ago, I had a terrible headache. That morning,I woke up with a dull pain in my head. But typical me, I thought I could push through it. I had a friend coming over that weekend and with all the mishaps going on in my life, I had not any time to fix the guest room. This was my chance. So here I was getting all that done and ignoring the headache. About 50 minutes later, I could not open my eyes anymore. It was a migraine. My head was throbbing. It felt like my temporal artery would beat out of my skin. I could hear it so loudly -Increased sensitivity to sound. Movement aggravated the pain. My eyes hurt badly and I had to put my sunglasses on; which really did not help – Increased sensitivity to light (photophobia). I got a jar from the fridge and placed it on my eyes while groaning in pain. Let me just say, I had waited too long. To cut the long story short, I eventually managed to get to a nearby drugstore and took some pills with water.
This was not the first time I had a headache of this sort. As a child, I had headaches when I was hungry. In medical school, I had headaches quite frequently. I have always been of the belief that I am “Migraine prone”. Luckily for me, the friend who was visiting happens to be a neurologist. I told her about the headache I had that morning; explaining the history, symptoms and intensity. The first question she asked was “do you drink enough water?” This question has never been a favorite of mine. I know that I do not drink enough fluids. And if I had no knowledge of medicine, I would have probably felt offended by the question. After all, I am complaining about a headache. Treat it with medication right?
Did you know?
We are made up of water and so a disruption in water balance can lead to various side effects. Babies have the most water in their body, being born at about 78%. By one year of age, that amount drops to about 65%. An adult male has about 60% of water in their bodies. Women typically have more fat tissue than male. Since fat does not mix well with water, women have less water – only 55%. The human brain and heart are composed of 73% water, and the lungs are about 83% water. The skin contains 64% water, muscles and kidneys are 79%, and even the bones are watery: 31%. Each day humans must consume a certain amount of water to survive. This varies according to age and gender, and also by where we live- hot climate or cold climate. Generally, an adult male needs about 3 liters per day while an adult female needs about 2.2 liters per day. About 20% of our water is derived from our food and 80% from our fluid intake. Water is essential for life. Without water, humans can only survive for days.
Homeostasis refers to the ability of the body to maintain an equilibrium within its internal environment when dealing with external changes. This is important with water as well. The maintenance of water homeostasis is achieved by balancing urine output against oral water intake (through food and drink). There are other ways we lose fluids called insensitive water losses (The term “insensitive” is because we are unable to measure how much fluid we lose). Some ways include through breathing, sweating, excessive crying and via the gastrointestinal tract.
How exactly does dehydration cause headaches?
Some observational studies indicate that water deprivation can serve as a trigger for migraine and also prolong migraine. The exact mechanism of dehydration headaches (or water-deprivation inducing headaches) is not fully understood. But there are a few theories that explain this.
- Some studies have shown that blood vessels in the head may actually narrow in an attempt to regulate body fluid levels. This makes it harder for oxygen and blood to get to the brain, a headache results. A constricted vessel would also explain the increased pressure felt and heard when the vessels in your head pump blood upwards to the brain. Additionally dehydration reduces the amount of electrolytes in the body, depriving our brains of these vital nutrients. This, in turn, is thought to contribute to those nagging headache symptoms.
- Our brains are about 73% water. When you become dehydrated your brain tissue loses water causing your brain to shrink and pull away from the skull. This triggers the pain receptors surrounding the brain, giving you a headache.
How do dehydration headaches present?
These headaches present differently in individuals. It may present as a dull pain or a very intense migraine. Dehydration headaches can occur at any point on the head – the front, back, sides, or all over. They may be symmetrical or asymmetrical. It often worsens with movement. So slight movements make it more painful. This includes bending over to pick things up, or even walking. There will often be accompanying symptoms such as a dry mouth, fatigue or increased blood pressure. Finally, you should assess your situation. Did you perform any activities that caused you to lose a lot of fluid? Perhaps exercising or physically demanding work, alcohol consumption, vomiting, fever and diarrhea are all things that lead to high fluid losses. Hot weather and high temperatures also put you at risk. Lastly, have you been drinking enough?
How to manage dehydration headaches
Increase your fluid intake
Drink more fluids – You do not have to feel thirsty before drinking. Research has shown a reduction in the total number of hours and intensity of headache episodes after increased water intake. Water intake is a cheap, non-invasive and low-risk intervention to reduce or prevent headaches. Though it is easier said than done, it is worth adding to your daily habits.
Fruits and vegetables – This is also a nice way to get some fluid in. Some examples of fruits and vegetables with a high water content include water melons, cantaloupe, pineapples, strawberries, cucumbers.
Monitor the colour and smell of your urine – If your urine is a dark yellow and with a strong ammonia smell, you are probably not drinking enough. Your urine should be a light yellow or clear color.
Find what works for you – Water is not the most exciting drink unfortunately. So seek out ways to make it enjoyable. Perhaps adding some lemon or berries. I personally enjoy the taste of apple cider vinegar (ACV) and so I occasionally add a tablespoon of ACV. It also has a lot of health benefits.
Monitor fluid losses
Keep in mind that some fluids have the opposite effect – Drinks like alcohol and caffeinated drinks such as coffee act as diuretics and so they cause you to urinate more hence losing fluid. Ever wondered why you have headaches after drinking alcohol? There you have it – Dehydration.
Be mindful of warm days – Choose to perform activities when it is not so sunny out. If you choose to go out anyway, always hydrate beforehand and have a bottle of water to take along with you.
Catch it early – If or when you sense a headache, do not ignore it. Grab yourself a glass of water. If you see no improvements, you may consider taking an analgesic.
Do not be too quick to use pills – Your body may develop a dependence to some of the chemicals in pain killers. In other words, your body may become addicted to these substances. Soon enough your body’s response to these pills will decline causing you to require higher doses. Even more, you run the risk of developing “rebound headaches” also known as medication overuse headaches.
Get a lot of rest – Stress makes your body prone to a lot of diseases that it would normally handle. A stressed person is not so worried about the next glass of water. So find ways to De-stress. Get enough sleep and take care of yourself.
While there are tons of importance reasons to drink a lot of water and stay hydrated, this is definitely a good one to motivate you to start drinking more fluids today.