Dehydration Headache: Causes, Symptoms, Prevention

What is a Dehydration Headache?

When people don’t drink enough water, they might get a headache. It is not yet proven that it is the lack of water that causes headaches. However, the medical community does believe that the lack of research on this topic doesn’t mean dehydration headache isn’t real. The medical community does have a classification for hangover headaches which are caused by dehydration in some cases.

woman taking glass of water while experiencing headache


Dehydration headaches can feel different to people, but they often have symptoms like other common headaches. For many people, it feels like a hangover headache. It is usually a pulsating ache on both sides of the head that worsens when you move around.

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A small survey in a medical journal found that 1 out of 10 people have experienced “dehydration headaches.” These people felt an aching pain in their head when they moved, bent down, or walked. However, the majority of these people felt relief after drinking water.

A small study of people with chronic migraines found that 34 out of 95 people thought that dehydration was a migraine trigger. People may experience different symptoms, but some common ones are:

  • Severe pain on one side of the head
  • Nausea
  • A visual aura

Other Symptoms Include

  • Feeling thirsty
  • Feeling tired more often
  • Not urinating
  • Dark yellow urine
  • Cold and Dry Skin
  • Muscle Cramps

Causes of Dehydration Headaches

Dehydration is when you lose more water than when you drink. It can happen if you forget to drink enough water or exercise a lot and don’t replace the lost water through sweat. Also, on sweltering days, especially when it’s hot and humid, people lose a lot of water through sweat. Dehydration also happens with many prescriptions and over-the-counter medicines.

If you don’t have enough water, it can be hazardous. If you don’t drink enough water, the brain will not work well, and if it’s severe, you could die. This is more common in people who do not drink a lot of water. It’s more common in:

  • Children
  • Older adults
  • People with chronic illnesses
  • People who don’t have access to safe drinking water


Drink Water

If you have a headache and feel dehydrated, first drink some water. Most people get better after drinking some water. However, you do not need to drink too much water. One or two glasses are water enough for most people when they are caused by dehydration.

If you drink too quickly, you might vomit. It is best to take slow, steady sips of water. You can also suck on a few ice cubes while drinking to cool down your body temperature and keep it from heating up too much.

Electrolyte Drinks

Drinking plain water should be enough to keep you hydrated. But drinks like Pedialyte and Powerade give an extra boost with electrolytes. Electrolytes are minerals that your boto order to function. You get them from the foods you eat and the things you drink. Dehydration can disrupt the important balance of electrolytes in your body, so replenishing them with a low-sugar sports drink might help you feel better.

OTC Pain Relievers

If you have a headache, drink water. If it does not get better, take medicine like ibuprofen or aspirin. These medicines can help with pain and sometimes headaches. But if you have a headache and feel sick to your stomach, do not use these medicines because they can make things worse. Always check with your doctor before taking any new medicines or doing anything that has not been recommended by them first.

Cold Compress

A gel ice pack is a good option to try. It feels better on your head than an ice cube, and it usually has a cover that straps around your forehead. But if you don’t have one, you can also make your own. Put crushed ice in a plastic bag and freeze it for a while. Then put the frozen bag of ice on your head and lie down somewhere dark and quiet for about 20 minutes.

How to Prevent Dehydration Headache

Dehydration can make you have a headache. Here are some tips to help you stay hydrated:

  • Hain water on your bag or car so that you can get it when you need it.
  • Add sugar-free mix to your water for a better taste.
  • Try to drink Crystal Light instead of soda because Crystal Light has fewer calories and helps with staying hydrated.
  • On your workouts, try wearing a water bottle holder like the fanny pack or CamelBak backpack.

About Mikael Gomez

Mikael is a health nutrition expert and loves mountain biking. Mikael started his health product research journey about 6 years ago and still loves doing it. Apart from spending time on his study, research & literature, he plays basketball regularly and is a fitness freak. Follow me on Linkedin

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