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How Do I Know If I’m Dehydrated?

Does Dehydration Cause Nausea and Dizziness?

Water is essential for your body. It maintains your internal body temperature, removes waste products and keeps joints lubricated. In fact, up to 60% of your body is water. So, what happens when the well runs dry? Dehydration.

"Dehydration happens when the body loses more water than it takes in," says Sarah Latoria, APRN, a certified nurse practitioner and primary care clinician at Northwestern Medicine. "Some reports indicate that more than 75% of Americans don't drink enough water daily, and many people only drink something when they become thirsty, which is too late."

Your body is a finely tuned machine. From skin to organs, water makes it work as it should. Even a slight drop in hydration can have an impact.

How do I know if I'm dehydrated?

Symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Thirst
  • Lightheadedness or dizziness
  • Headache
  • Fatigue
  • Dry mouth
  • Confusion
  • Urine that is an amber color or darker
  • Lack of tears, which can lead to dry eyes.

"Children can present symptoms in a variety of different ways," adds Latoria. "For some kids, a fever, diarrhea, vomiting or profuse sweating are markers of dehydration. Others may also have a dry mouth, no tears and the appearance of sunken eyes. Fatigue and a lack of urine are also signs of dehydration in children."

What can chronic dehydration cause?

Being regularly dehydrated for days or weeks can cause:

What can cause dehydration?

For many, dehydration is caused by not drinking enough water, but other factors can also lead to dehydration, including:

  • Medications. Certain antihistamines, blood pressure medications, laxatives, diuretics and chemotherapies can cause dehydration, as they cause you to urinate more.
  • Heat-related illness. Conditions such as heat stroke can cause rapid fluid loss.
  • Flu. If you have the flu, you may also have fever, vomiting or diarrhea, which can make you dehydrated.
  • Uncontrolled diabetes. One of the first symptoms of diabetes is excessive thirst. When you have diabetes, your body tries to get rid of the excess glucose, which can lead to dehydration, as the frequency of urination increases.

How much water do you need to drink to stay hydrated?

There are many recommendations on how much water one should drink to stay hydrated. Some experts say six to eight glasses of water a day. Others say more or less depending on body size.

"A good rule of thumb is to check the appearance of your urine," says Latoria. "Light-colored or pale-yellow urine shows you're well hydrated. If your urine is darkly colored, it's a sign of dehydration."

Your clinician can perform blood tests and a urine analysis to determine the extent of your dehydration and what may need to be done to boost your hydration levels again. It could be as simple as drinking more water or more involved like coming to the hospital to receive IV fluids.

Quick tip: While certain fruits and vegetables contain high amounts of water, you shouldn't rely solely on these foods to hydrate.

Hydration has no age restrictions, but the fluids that are most appropriate and helpful can vary depending on the body's development.

  • Infants: Babies should rehydrate by increasing the amount of breastmilk or formula they get, and possibly adding an oral rehydration solution if your clinician feels your child still isn't getting enough fluids. Children under six months shouldn't drink water. If you suspect your infant is dehydrated, immediately contact your clinician as infant dehydration can become a serious health issue or be an indicator of other health concerns.
  • Children older than 12 months: Kids should drink water or milk, which contains protein, vitamin D and calcium. If your child is lactose-intolerant, they can also have a milk alternative, such as soy, coconut or almond milk. Kids lose a lot of water playing sports or being active outside, so make sure they stay hydrated, especially in the hotter summer months.
  • Adults: If you experience any of the symptoms of dehydration above, take a break to relax for a bit and rehydrate. Water is the rehydration beverage of choice, but juice or electrolyte drinks can also help replenish fluids and necessary minerals.

Is it dehydration or something else?

Many people may think they're dehydrated when they are actually experiencing symptoms of another medical condition. How can you tell the difference? Dehydration is usually a singular event, whereas symptoms of other conditions may be recurring. Other conditions with similar symptoms of dehydration include:

  • Anemia, which can cause weakness, dizziness and confusion.
  • Heat stroke, which can cause headache, dizziness, confusion, nausea, racing heart and elevated body temperature (more than 104 degrees F).
  • Concussion, which can cause headache, confusion, dizziness, nausea and fatigue.
  • Hypothyroid disease, which can cause dry skin, constipation, fatigue and confusion.

When should you seek medical attention for dehydration?

If you have severe cravings for water or are showing signs of dehydration that aren't going away after drinking water, contact your clinician to determine the cause.

You should seek immediate care if you experience:

  • Diarrhea or vomiting lasting more than 24 hours
  • Inability to keep down any fluids for more than 24 hours
  • Symptoms of dehydration along with any of the following:
    • Lethargy
    • Confusion
    • Loss of consciousness at any point
    • Fever above 102 degrees F
    • Rapid heartbeat

Water is vital to your health, and it's the healthiest beverage out there. So, drink up and don't leave home without your water bottle.

Find an immediate care center near you.