A Migraine Trigger You Can Avoid: Dehydration

Patient Expert

When trying to prevent migraines, one of the more essential elements is trigger identification and management. It's important because some migraine triggers are avoidable. Dehydration is one such trigger. For some of us, being even a little dehydrated can be an extraordinarily strong trigger.

Up to 65 percent of the human body is water. Put simply, dehydration occurs when we lose more water than we consume. It's a bit more complicated than that since the body loses valuable electrolytes as well. That's part of the appeal of sports drinks they replenish electrolytes as well as just fluid.

Many people mistakenly think dehydration occurs only in hot weather and that you're not dehydrated if you aren't thirsty. Both of these misconceptions lead to a lot of preventable cases of dehydration.

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 of water to replace what our bodies lose in 24 hours.

  • Under normal circumstances, the amount of water we need depends a great deal on the volume of our perspiration and urine output.

  • Our bodies' need for water increases under the following circumstances:

  • Warmer weather or climate

  • Living at high altitudes

  • Increased physical activity

  • When experiencing vomiting or diarrhea

  • When you have a fever

  • 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 certain medications (check your prescription information)

  • During long flights

  • Losing as little as 1 to 2 percent of body weight in liquids can result in dehydration.
  • Losing 3 to 5 percent of body's water can negatively impact reaction time, concentration and judgment.
  • Losing 9 to 15 percent of our water results in severe dehydration and can be life threatening.

Symptoms of dehydration

  • Excessive thirst

  • Fatigue

  • Muscle weakness

  • Headache or 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

Treating dehydration

Dehydration should be confirmed by your doctor. If caught early, dehydration can usually be treated at home. Your doctor's suggestions for treatment may vary depending on the cause and severity of the dehydration, particularly with children. Common treatments include:

  • Mild dehydration: Rehydration can occur by drinking fluids, including sports drinks, which rehydrate by providing not only fluid, but also electrolytes and salt. In children, products such as Pedialyte may be recommended it also contains carbohydrates to help absorption in the intestinal tract. Coffee, tea, and soda should not be used for dehydration as their caffeine content can actually be dehydrating.

  • Moderate dehydration: Rehydration by drinking liquids could suffice, but IV fluids may be required.

  • Severe dehydration: Immediate action should be taken and the situation should be treated as a medical emergency. Hospital treatment is necessary for IV fluids to rehydrate more quickly and efficiently and to allow observation by health professionals.

Prevention, the best treatment

Here are some steps you can take to prevent it:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat foods high in water. Fruit contains the most water, followed by vegetables and meat. Grains have the least.
  • Choose your beverages wisely. Caffeine and alcohol can be dehydrating. For some people, too much fruit juice can cause diarrhea, which can be dehydrating.
  • If you're planning a day with more exercise than usual, begin hydrating the day before.
  • Sports drinks can help maintain electrolyte balance, but be careful not to consume them too often. They can be loaded with sugar.
  • Plan your outdoor activities for cooler parts of the day.
  • If you're organizing outdoor activities, provide shaded areas.
  • When you're ill, make sure you continue drinking fluids and consume additional fluids if you have a fever or are vomiting or have diarrhea. Call your doctor for help with treating the vomiting or diarrhea, if necessary.
  • Talk with your doctor about your medications and dehydration. Some medications can contribute to dehydration and you may need to account for that.

The bottom line

Learning to prevent and recognize dehydration is essential. Don't let it ruin your fun or make you more ill. Remember to take in as much fluid as you're losing each day. Talk with your doctor to determine if any of your medications can contribute to dehydration.


"Dehydration Overview."  MayoClinic.com.

"Dehydration and Heat Stroke." The Ohio State University Medical Center.

"Dehydration." UPMC, University of Pittsburgh Medical Center.

Worthington-Roberts, Bonnie, M.S., Ph.D. "Nutrition." Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia.

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