There's much to check off on your to-do list each day, which is why it's understandable if you're having a hard time keeping yourself hydrated. You've probably heard that you should drink at least eight glasses of water each day, but what happens when you don't meet that goal? When does not drinking enough water start to affect your health—and what does that really look like?
Olveen Carrasquillo, M.D., M.P.H., a professor and chief of the general medicine division at the University of Miami's Miller School of Medicine, says that the eight glasses of water each day recommendation is just that—a recommendation. Everyone's water needs are different. "I don't drink eight glasses of water each day, but I'm still hydrated—what people tend to forget is that there's quite a bit of water in food, too," Carrasquillo says. "Plus, how much water you should be drinking depends on how physical you are throughout the day, the climate you live in, and other individual health factors." In some cases, eight glasses of water each day might be too much, and drinking too much water becomes detrimental to your health.
More often than not, medical professionals encounter individuals who aren't keeping themselves hydrated—some to the point that they need intravenous treatment to replenish their body with missing nutrients. These types of cases are much higher during the summer months, but regardless of the season, it's important to understand the ways in which your body signals that it's not hydrated, including outward symptoms that can be confused for other illnesses. Here, Carrasquillo shares some of the most prevalent side effects of dehydration everyone needs to know.
Related: How to Drink More Water
Feeling Dizzy, Lightheaded, and Confused
This may be the earliest clue that you're not getting enough water in your daily routine, especially if you're feeling woozy on a regular basis. When you become dehydrated, your blood pressure can drop—which can lead to your brain receiving less oxygen overall, leading to dizziness. Carrasquillo says that some may also experience headaches that they've normally never suffered before.
Your mouth is trying to tell you something, as dryness is a sign that there's not enough fluid in your body to produce the saliva you need to keep your mouth moist. Carrasquillo says that you can also experience dry mouth when you're feeling nervous, anxious, or stressed, but if it's coupled with dizziness and occurs frequently, it's time to upgrade your water bottle.
You may giggle, but it's true—you should be monitoring the color of your urine if you feel you may be dehydrated. Usually, if your urine is too concentrated (read: yellow), it's a sign that your body doesn't have enough liquid to filter out natural waste. The lighter, the better, Carrasquillo says.
Related: The Best Water Filters to Keep You Healthy and Hydrated
Severe Muscle Cramps
If you're particularly active, this may be a factor for you, as not drinking enough water can lead to leg and abdominal cramps that feel particularly crippling for some. Carrasquillo says changes in your electrolyte levels—and not having enough liquids to replenish nutrients like potassium and sodium—can cause the muscles to cramp up frequently.
"If you're noticing that your skin is constantly dry, rough, and common household treatments aren't working, it may signify that you're not getting enough liquids throughout the day," Carrasquillo says. Healthcare professionals test for a common dehydration indicator when they see patients: They pinch the skin and wait to see if a skin turgor occurs, which is when skin is slow to return to its normal state. Your skin's elasticity may indicate if there's deficiencies in liquids throughout the body, and whether or not you should seek out medical attention for dehydration.
How to Avoid Becoming Dehydrated
When someone has to be treated for dehydration in a hospital, Carrasquillo says they'll have to be on bed rest for a few days before being able to jump back into a normal routine, and most likely will require "intravenous resuscitation." In some cases, there are increased risks for dehydration for people who are on medications like diuretics and antihistamines, as well as those with preexisting medical conditions. But Carrasquillo says anyone can assess how much water they should drink by thinking of their exposure to sunlight, hot climates, and other risk factors.
"If you're working outside and doing lots of physical work like working on a major highway, your needs are going to be very different from others. You should be drinking water every hour on the hour, and taking frequent breaks," he says. "Be sure to dress appropriately for the occasion too." Lastly, Carrasquillo says being properly hydrated doesn't always hinge on water: If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, reach for sport drinks to help balance your electrolytes too. "Make sure that you stay adequately hydrated," he says. "There's no rule of thumb or one size fits all solution—everyone is unique."
This article originally appeared on Martha Stewart.
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