Are you thirsty? So is the rest of the United States. Nearly 80 percent of working adults self-report that they don’t drink enough water, according to a survey conducted by Quench, which is a filtered water system provider.
The body is almost 60 percent water, which is necessary for nearly every bodily function. People can lose their water quickly, particularly if they are sick, exercising a lot or if it is really hot outside.
How much you should drink depends on the individual, but health experts recommend eight glasses a day as a general guideline, up to 15 glasses for men, and 11 for women.
And, according to research, if you’re thirsty, you are already dehydrated. But there are many other ways to tell if you need more fluids in your life.
1. Your skin is rough and flaking.
One of the main ways we lose water is through our epidermis. We lose water when we sweat, and we also lose water when it’s cold because the air is drier and sucks the moisture out of us. If your skin is rough, cracking or flaking, you could use more water. Other signs include redness or tightening. If your skin is constantly cold and clammy, you could be dehydrated as a symptom of diabetes, so make sure to check with your doctor.
If you want to check your skin for dehydration, pinch a small area of your cheek. If it wrinkles, you need to drink more fluids.
2. Your urine is a dark yellow, or even darker.
A common way to check for dehydration is to watch for the color of your urine. It should run close to clear, so if you are looking more like a saturated gym floor color, it might be time to add several glasses of water to your daily routine.
3. You’re constipated.
We need water to digest food and move it along our digestive tracks. When we don’t have enough of it, we could have fewer bowel movements, or small, lumpy ones. When our bodies are dehydrated, and converting the food to waste, the cells in the intestines extract water from the food we are eating. This takes it from the waste leftovers, leaving them hard and dry.
4. Your blood pressure is irregular.
Fifty-five percent of your blood is liquid, which means if you are dehydrated, your blood volume could decrease. Why does that matter? Your blood pressure. In fact, the American Heart Association lists a cause of low blood pressure as dehydration. This could lead to dizziness and even fainting.
But it’s not just low blood pressure that can occur. Dehydration could also lead to the opposite: hypertension, which is caused by high blood pressure. When cells need water, the brain can step in and send a message to constrict the blood vessels. This is what leads to the high blood pressure.
5. You’re exhausted.
Getting a good night’s sleep? If you are dehydrated, it might not be enough. Research shows lack of water can make you feel fatigued, lethargic and tired even when well rested otherwise. In addition, low blood pressure can lead to excessive tiredness.
People who have chronic fatigue syndrome could see improvement if they drink more fluids. When blood volume drops, the heart has to work harder to get oxygen and nutrients to the muscles and organs. It also redirects the blood from the skin to other more pressing organs. This raises the body’s internal heat which can result in muscle cramps and fatigue as the body fights to regulate itself.
6. You have headaches.
Even mild dehydration can give you a headache, according to a study of 25 young women, which recorded that even a 1.3 percent drop in hydration triggered pain. As with tiredness, this symptom can also be linked to low blood pressure.
7. Your mood is off.
How much of your brain is water? A whopping 70 percent. If you are dehydrated, the brain is affected. You may be less alert and unable to concentrate, especially when driving, according to studies. People who are dehydrated may also be more prone to depression, as water deficiency in brain cells cuts the energy supply. Studies show anxiety, tension and low mood swings result from dehydration, in addition to confusion, irritability, and lowered executive function.
8. Your pain threshold is lower.
The brain is also responsible for nervous reactions to pain, and research has found that dehydration causes the brain to be more sensitive to it. Arthritic pain also increases when you are lacking water because fluids lubricate the joints, providing a cushion between the bones. This cushion absorbs shock and provides joint nutrition, as well. Nearly 80 percent of joint cartilage is made of water.
Thankfully, there is a really easily solution to dehydration: drink some water! In fact, it doesn’t even have to be water. Foods like fruits and juicy vegetables can provide hydration, and liquids that aren’t caffeinated or alcoholic can also help.
While drinking more water will help in most situations, make sure you get medical help if your symptoms become severe or include stomach cramping, fainting, seizures, heatstroke or hallucinations.
Darlena Cunha is a freelance writer and a professor at the University of Florida, with degrees in communications and ecology.