Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?

Unravel the link between dehydration and headaches. Stay hydrated and headache-free with advice from Next Health. Learn more about effective hydration today.

Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?
Next Health Staff
December 6, 2023

You can get headaches from a wide range of root causes, ranging from your diet to exercising too much to drinking too much alcohol. While it's essential to stay hydrated for various reasons, it may be critical so you don’t suffer hard-to-handle headaches.

Today, we will break down why dehydration can cause headaches and what you may be able to do to relieve your discomfort.

Why Can Dehydration Cause Headaches?

Full stop, dehydration can and often does cause headaches — but not for the reason you might think.

In a nutshell, when your body becomes dehydrated, various tissues shrink as they lose water volume. This is a normal response in your body, ranging from your skin to your muscles and organs. However, it also occurs in your brain tissue.

When your brain shrinks, it retracts from the skull. This squeezes the various nerves within your brain, which can cause pain. While the brain tissue itself doesn't feel anything, other nerves around or within the brain connected to your nervous system may experience discomfort when dehydration occurs.

For this reason, even a small amount of dehydration may cause a mild to moderate strength headache. While dehydration doesn’t usually trigger migraines, those who are already susceptible to migraines may find that dehydration occasionally triggers a migraine attack as well.

Therefore, it’s a good idea to avoid dehydration at all costs, especially if you are susceptible to excruciating headaches or migraines.

Common Symptoms of Dehydration Headaches

Although dehydration headaches feel like mild to severe pain or throbbing, they may also be accompanied by other symptoms of dehydration, including:

  • A dry mouth
  • Fatigue or exhaustion
  • Dizziness or confusion
  • Dark urine, as well as a lower need to urinate
  • Heat cramps, also called muscle cramps
  • Diarrhea
  • Rapid heartbeat
  • Loss of appetite or nausea/vomiting
  • Low blood pressure
  • Altered taste
  • Passing out or fainting in cases of extreme dehydration
  • Intense thirst. However, in some cases, you may not feel thirsty at all if your dehydration has gone on long enough

In a few rare cases, dehydration is actually marked by sudden weight gain. When this happens, your body may try to retain extra water if it starts to expect regular dehydration. Therefore, you may want to start drinking more water if you notice that you are gaining a few extra pounds even if your diet hasn’t changed.

Ultimately, dehydration headaches are inconvenient and uncomfortable enough that it’s a wise idea to avoid them if you can.

Why Do Dehydration Headaches Occur?

As noted, dehydration headaches primarily occur when your brain tissue shrinks down, negatively stimulating certain nerve endings in the head and around the neck. You can become dehydrated from any number of activities, including but not limited to:

  • Exercising intensely without rehydrating.
  • When you exercise, you sweat to keep your body temperature low. This can inadvertently lead to dehydration if you don’t replenish that water your body sheds.
  • Drinking too much alcohol. When you drink alcohol, you secrete more water through sweat and urine, which often leads to dehydration. When you become dehydrated after drinking alcohol, you’ll usually get a headache as part of a hangover.
  • Not drinking enough water in general. If you live a sedentary lifestyle, you may not feel thirsty regularly enough to avoid dehydration. Therefore, you may occasionally get mild dehydration headaches just from going about your daily routine.
  • Living in a dry environment. Dry environments hold the potential to sap extra moisture away from your mouth and your skin, especially if you spend a lot of time outside.

How to Tell if You Have a Dehydration Headache

Because several issues or activities can cause headaches, it can be tough to tell whether you are experiencing a dehydration headache specifically. Your headache, after all, could be caused by alcohol consumption or something else entirely.

To determine whether you have a dehydration headache:

  • Ask yourself when the last time was that you drank a glass of water. If it was several hours previously, odds are it’s a dehydration headache.
  • Think back to when you last exercised. If you didn’t drink water afterward, you are probably still dehydrated and now have a headache.
  • Ask yourself whether you drank water in conjunction with drinking alcoholic beverages. You may be dehydrated from excreting extra water.

However, you can also tell if you have a dehydration headache by examining your symptoms directly.

  • More intense headaches, such as migraines, are characterized by intense and stabbing pain, especially around the temples or neck. Dehydration headaches are usually mild and are characterized by throbbing pain instead.
  • Your headache location may also provide a useful clue. Tension headaches are usually centered around the neck and the lower part of your skull. A dehydration headache, in contrast, may feel painful or uncomfortable all around your skull and brain.

No matter what type of headache you have, drinking more water is usually helpful. With that said, there are a few different treatment methods you may be able to try.

Treating Dehydration Headaches

There is some good news, even though dehydration headaches are easy to end up with accidentally. You can treat a dehydration headache using one of the below methods.

Drink Water

Naturally, drinking more water will quickly take care of your dehydration headache. Your body can absorb water on an empty stomach in a matter of minutes, so if you feel a mild headache coming on, drink a glass of water and see if that treats the issue.

You may not even need to pop a painkiller if this takes care of the problem. Get a reusable water bottle and keep it filled to get into the habit of drinking water more regularly — before severe dehydration sets in.

You might also drink sports drinks like Gatorade or Powerade, which are full of electrolytes like sodium, magnesium, zinc, potassium, and other minerals while also hydrating your body. These are prime drinks after lots of physical activity.

Try IV Drip Infusions

However, drinking water is far from the most efficient method to rehydrate your body and brain. Indeed, even drinking water on an empty stomach first requires the water to pass through your stomach, then be absorbed by your intestines.

What if there was a way to hydrate yourself more quickly? It turns out there is: IV drip infusions. IV drip infusions provided by wellness centers like Next Health use intravenous therapy to provide your body with fluids and other nutrients directly via the bloodstream.

This has many benefits. For example, intravenous therapy allows blood cells and other body tissues to immediately absorb water and nutrients. The nutrients and water don't have to pass through your stomach and digestive system.

Therefore, IV drip infusions, like we provide at Next Health, can be better choices for rapidly rehydrating yourself when you have a dehydration headache, a hangover, or other issues.

Plus, many of the best IV drip infusions include electrolytes and other vitamins and nutrients. These additional nutrients can give your body a bigger boost or potentially offset secondary or ancillary symptoms.

As an example, Next Health’s Hangover IV comes with plenty of quality ingredients to:

  • Hydrate your body and replenish lost electrolytes
  • Ease many of the symptoms of hangovers, which are similar to headache symptoms
  • Clear the skin and reduce oxidative stress
  • Improve brain health

Each of these benefits could provide direct improvements to your headache and its duration. But if Hangover IV doesn’t seem right, consider that Next Health offers many other IV drip infusions for different needs.

Take Pain Relievers

Although most dehydration headaches are relatively mild, some can be quite uncomfortable. If that's the case for you, don't be afraid of using over-the-counter painkillers from time to time. For example, maybe you have a dehydration headache because you have to work outdoors in a hot desert climate.

Drinking more water and taking a single aspirin or ibuprofen could help you avoid the major symptoms of the dehydration headache. Just be sure to drink more water regularly. The painkiller will eventually wear off, leaving you feeling uncomfortable and pained just like before.

Pain relievers can be extra helpful if your dehydration headache is comparatively intense. That way, you can focus long enough to drink a few glasses of water without wanting to curl into a ball.

Get Plenty of Rest

Speaking of curling into a ball, you can treat dehydration headaches by getting a lot of rest in many cases. When you rest, your body expends fewer fluids through speaking, sweating, or just by moving your muscles around.

Resting gives your body time to replenish its fluids and nutrients, plus restore its energy reserves. If you have an intense dehydration headache, your best bet may be to drink a glass of water with a pain reliever, then take a short nap in a dark, cool room. This way, you won’t sweat extra and accidentally dehydrate yourself once again.

Avoid Dehydrating Activities

Lastly, you can treat dehydration headaches by avoiding continually dehydrating activities. It should go without saying that if you become dehydrated during a sporting event, you shouldn’t keep playing that sport until you are back up to 100%.

Similarly, if it’s really hot outdoors and you file dehydration headache coming on, find a spot in the shade and sip on a cool drink. Don’t continue to walk around in the hot sun. You’ll only make yourself sweat and make your dehydration even worse.

Combining several of these treatment methods could be the wisest course of action in many cases.


At the end of the day, dehydration headaches are certainly avoidable and treatable, even if you get them regularly. Making a few wise lifestyle changes may help you become less susceptible to dehydration headaches and less triggering for larger issues like migraines.

In addition, you can always turn to wellness facilities like Next Health. With our intravenous therapy, we may be able to help you alleviate the symptoms of your dehydration headaches, plus rejuvenate and revitalize your body at the same time. Every IV drip infusion comes with plenty of water and a Myer’s Cocktail Base, which has everything you need to get back up to 100% ASAP.

Contact us today for more information, to set up an appointment, or to see which Next Health location is most convenient for you.


Dehydration Headache: Dehydration Symptoms & Types of Headaches | Cleveland Clinic

Dehydration and Headache | NCBI

Water-deprivation headache: a new headache with two variants | NCBI

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