How Are Headaches and Hydration Related?

Headaches and hydration

There are many different factors that can cause a headache. Here we are going to discuss how dehydration is a common cause, though often overlooked.

What are the most common types of headache?

Headaches can affect each of us in different ways and are classified into various types. Dehydration is believed to be a contributing factor to some headaches.

The most common are:

  • Tension-type headaches.
  • Migraines
  • Cluster headaches
  • Hangover headaches (headaches caused by overindulgence in alcohol)

What happens to our bodies when they are dehydrated?

The first symptoms of dehydration are usually thirst and dry mouth. However, other symptoms may develop too, such as headache, fatigue, weakness, constipation, parched lips, dizziness, dry or flushed skin, rapid heartbeat and muscle cramps. When a person becomes dehydrated, it is not only water which is lost: salts, such as sodium and potassium, which are important for your body, are depleted as well.

Preventing dehydration; how much water do we need?

Just as headaches can be triggered by dehydration, headaches and migraines may be less severe, or less frequent through ensuring that you are drinking adequate amounts of fluids, particularly water. To reap the benefits, you should try to drink more water and be mindful of the following advice:2

  • Water is regarded as the best drink to ensure good hydration. Other drinks, such as alcohol and coffee, are diuretics, which means that they can dehydrate you rather than hydrate.
  • Drink as much as you need to prevent feeling thirsty throughout the day.
  • As a rule of thumb, drinking enough water so your urine is always a light yellow or colourless; this is a sign of good hydration.
  • Anything that increases perspiration, such as warm weather, physical activity and high altitude, will increase your fluid needs and you may require more than the amount usually recommended.
  • Keep in mind that consuming more fruit and vegetables is a way to increase your fluid intake – but it is not an alternative to drinking water.
  • Seek shade when it is hot out, or protect yourself with an umbrella. Plan outside activities for cooler parts of the day, and drink plenty of water in advance of any event.
  • In cold weather, particularly winter, you may feel less thirsty but it is still just as important to drink an adequate amount.

What fluid intake is a recommended amount? Well, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends an intake of two and a half litres of water for men and two litres of water for women per day. This only applies to conditions of moderate environmental temperature and moderate physical activity levels, via food and drink. Many issues alter an individual’s fluids needs, and the advice offered by the NHS is simply to drink plenty of water.

Treating Headaches

Headaches triggered or caused by insufficient water intake are of course best treated by rehydrating yourself. However, you can also treat headaches with a pain reliever as well.

If you are in any doubt about your headaches, always get advice from a doctor and / or a pharmacist. If your headache has resulted following a head injury, if it becomes severe, or if you experience visual problems, fever, nausea or slurred speech, seek urgent medical attention.

On balance, headache prevention is surely preferable to suffering a headache! So keeping well hydrated could be one simple way to suffer less of them.



Data sources:

1. Wöber C, Wöber-Bingöl C. Triggers of migraine and tension-type headache.Handb Clin Neurol. 2010;97:161 72.
2. Kempton MJ, Ettinger U, Foster R, Williams SC, Calvert GA, Hampshire A, Zelaya FO, O'Gorman RL, McMorris T, Owen AM, Smith MS. Dehydration affects brain structure and function in healthy adolescents. Hum Brain Mapp. 2011 Jan;32(1):71-9.