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Home remedies for tackling dehydration headaches
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Home remedies for tackling dehydration headaches

Loss of electrolytes along with fluid loss can lead to dehydration headaches. Mild episodes can be managed at home, say experts
Dehydration headaches normally go away on rehydration unless they involve severe fluid loss.
Having muscle cramps along with headache is a telltale symptom of a dehydration headache. (Photo by Anantha Subramanyam K / Happiest Health)

Water can be considered as the true elixir of life. From regulating the body temperature and lubricating the joints to keeping the right consistency for the blood to flow, it is essential for the optimal functioning of the human body. This also means that lack of sufficient water in the body can lead to many issues, including dehydration headaches.

What are dehydration headaches? 

Feeling low on energy, fatigue, giddiness and intense thirst are among the signs of dehydration. Yet another common effect of dehydration, something that is rarely spoken about and therefore not well understood, is dehydration headache. 

“It is understood that when there is water deficit, the brain shrinks,” says Dr Sindhu DM, consultant neurologist and epileptologist, Apollo Hospitals, Bangalore. “Thus, the brain is pulled away from the skull. This results in stretching of the covering of the brain (called dura), causing dehydration headaches.” 

Dehydration headaches occur when there is a loss of electrolytes, especially sodium, along with fluid loss. 

“The brain doesn’t have pain receptors,” says Dr Gurneet Singh Sawhney, senior consultant, neuro and spine surgery, Fortis Hospital Mulund, Mumbai. “The pain receptors are maybe in the dura or in the blood vessels. So, when the blood vessels are not adequately supplied with blood, then the blood vessels shrink, creating a pull on the surrounding area, causing headache.”  

How to identify dehydration headaches? 

The headache spectrum is vast. Dehydration headaches normally occur combined with other symptoms. 

“Dehydration headaches may be mild to severe in intensity,” adds Dr Sindhu. “It can involve the entire head or stay localised to one part of the head. The character of the headache may be dull aching type or throbbing. [Generally], dehydration headaches go away with adequate hydration.” 

Sometimes, even other types of headaches — such as fasting headaches or hunger headaches — come with symptoms similar to dehydration headaches. 

“Having muscles cramps along with a headache is an identifying feature of a dehydration headache,” says Dr Sawhney. “The pain would also be like having a tight band around the head.” 

Remedies for dehydration headache 

If dehydration is the cause of headache, then rehydration would be one of the ideal ways to reduce the pain. And keeping a tab on your hydration can help prevent dehydration headaches. 

“Dehydration headaches can be managed by taking frequent sips of water or alternatives like ganji or kanji (porridge or rice water), soups, avoiding the heat and moving to a cooler place,” says Dr Sindhu. “While exercising, make sure you take water breaks, as exercise makes you lose a lot of water through sweat.” 

Keeping up the glucose level in the body is important, too. 

“Drinking salt water or even lemon juice helps,” adds Dr Sawhney. “One should also keep the glucose level up because it is very difficult to say whether the headache is because of dehydration or lack of glucose.” 

Experts suggest that over-the-counter medications [painkillers] or NSAIDs (non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs) can be tried, but in cases of severe dehydration one may require intravenous fluids. So, consult a doctor in such scenarios. 

Takeaways 

  • Dehydration causes the brain to shrink slightly, pulling away from the covering layer (dura) and causing pain. Inadequate blood supply to the brain due to less fluid content in the body is another cause of dehydration headaches. 
  • Symptoms include any sign of dehydration, muscle cramps and a tight band-like pain around the head.
  • Keeping yourself hydrated and staying out of the heat can help prevent dehydration headaches. Drinking salt water, lemon juice and keeping the body’s glucose level in check or even taking over-the-counter painkillers can help manage such headaches. 

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