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Dehydration - An Avoidable Migraine Trigger

by Teri Robert, MyMigraineConnection Lead Expert

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The human body is 65% water. Simply put, dehydration occurs as the result of excessive loss of water from the body, when we lose more water than we take in. It's a bit more complicated than that since the body loses valuable electrolytes as well. That's why sports drinks have become so popular; they replenish electrolytes as well as just fluid. Dehydration can be a major issue, both in and of itself and as a headache or Migraine trigger. Many people mistakenly think it occurs only in hot weather and that you're not dehydrated if you're not thirsty. Both of these misconceptions lead to many cases of dehydration every year, some of them quite serious. Let's take a look at dehydration, what it does to the body, how to treat it, and -- perhaps most importantly -- how to prevent it.

Dehydration basics:

  • It takes an average of 64 to 80 ounces to replace the water our bodies lose in 24 hours.
  • Under normal circumstances, how much water we need depends a great deal on the volume of our perspiration and urine output.
  • Our bodies' need for water increases under circumstances such as:
    • warmer weather or climate
    • living at high altitudes
    • increased physical activity
    • when experiencing vomiting or diarrhea
    • when fevered
    • when you have a cold or the flu
    • if you have a chronic disease such as uncontrolled or untreated diabetes, kidney disease, alcoholism, cystic fibrosis, or adrenal disorders,
    • if you are taking some medications. Always check your prescription information.
    • during long air flights
  • Losing as little as 1 to 2% of body weight can result in dehydration.
  • Losing 3 to 5% can negatively impact reaction time, concentration and judgment.
  • Losing 9 - 15% results in severe dehydration and is life-threatening.

Symptoms of dehydration:

  • Excessive thirst
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle weakness
  • Headache (or, in the case of Migraineurs, Migraine)
  • Dizziness
  • Less frequent need to urinate and decreased output
  • Darker colored urine (should be nearly clear to pale yellow)
  • Confusion
  • Increased heart rate and respirations
  • Skin that doesn't snap back when pinched and released
  • Children may exhibit additional symptoms:
    • Absence of tears when crying
    • No wet diaper for three hours or longer
    • Irritability
    • Lethargy
    • Fever
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