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Chronic Dehydration as Migraine Trigger

My new headache specialist admonished me for being dehydrated and ordered me to drink more water. Many doctors have reprimanded me for not drinking enough water, as evidenced by my horribly dry lips, dry skin that doesn’t immediately flatten out when pinched, and how long it takes for my nail beds to return to pink when pressed. When I tell them I drink about 100 oz of water a day, they look at me like “yeah, right.” But it’s true. I tracked for a couple weeks recently and the only time my lips softened was when I drank 216 ounces in one day. And I peed constantly.

At my return visit to the headache specialist Thursday, he said that the water must be going right through me. I drink plenty of it (and don’t drink anything dehydrating), but my body doesn’t hold onto it. The treatment is to imbibe drinks enhanced with electrolytes, like Gatorade or an oral rehydration solution. It seems to be helping. My lips are softer, my nail beds recolor more quickly and I pee a lot less. The migraines also haven’t been as bad. (Though I also started a new medication, so I can’t comfortably claim cause and effect.)

Dehydration is a major migraine trigger, but I couldn’t believe it was for be because I drink so much water. It’s exciting to think that chronic dehydration could be contributing the the frequency and severity of my chronic migraines — it’s so easy to fix! Now the question is why my body doesn’t retain water. Back to my primary care provider for tests.

Could you be dehydrated without knowing it? Look into it — there could be an easy way to reduce your migraines. Check dehydration symptoms and think about what you drink. In a busy day, it’s easy to forget to drink enough water. If you drink caffeine or alcohol, you need even more water to offset their dehydrating effects. Although I don’t have hard evidence for this, the dry mouth and frequent need to pee during a migraine indicate that migraine episodes themselves cause dehydration.

35 Responses to Chronic Dehydration as Migraine Trigger

  1. Kathryn says:

    Haven’t tried that yet, I’ll try it next.

  2. Kate says:

    Thanks for sharing! I’ve heard that coconut water can be great for hydration, but I haven’t tried it yet. I sure notice with my bad pain that I get the dehydration symptoms, and that a Powerade Zero helps a bit. I’m curious what medically could cause this, and if its treatable? A quick search leads me in the direction of the adrenals. I think I have something like this too–I’m always thirsty, yet I drink lots of water and have almost clear pee. My labs showed something that my doctor told me to drink more water…I had the same thing that they didn’t believe that I drank so much.

    *******
    Online I’ve found chronic dehydration linked to the adrenal system, kidneys and thyroid. I’m trying to hold off on anymore internet research — I don’t want to freak myself out without cause. I’m going to call my doctor in the morning and see what I can learn. I’ll let you know what I find out.

    Kerrie

  3. Margaret says:

    Hi Kerrie,
    I probably couldn’t produce a more flippant response to this potentially great news if I tried, but darnit, the word “electrolytes” is now, for me, inextricably linked to the movie “Idiocracy”. Which you might get a kick out of, if you haven’t seen it.

    Also, I’ve been reading Sandor Ellix Katz’s “Wild fermentation” and I keep thinking of you. Probably because fermented foods have a reputation for ameliorating the nausea produced by some drugs.

    *hug*

    Margaret

  4. Andy says:

    Water is key, even if your not a migraine suffer. I have friends that only drink soda or coffee, and I think that they generally get sick more often. one way to know that you may be dehydrated, is if you don’t pee as often. Let us know what your doctor has to say.

  5. Michael says:

    I never thought to google “chronic daily headaches” and now find this little chat/blog that is offering differing opinions than the “voodoo doc” who stuck a 4″ needle into my cervical vertebra in an attempt to “burn off” the nerve endings thus preventing the pain receptors from activating my headaches. When that failed, miserably, he was content to get me hooked on Oxycontin, up to 50mg 2x day. Been off that for over a year, but sad to say, after major back surgery & a knee replacement, have been taking Norco for both knee & back, but primarily for my “CDH”. Anyone think that Norco could be actually causing the headaches ? It works just enough to give me the impression that it is my only aid.

  6. Great post Kerrie. As a chiropractor I have certainly found that dehydration can be a strong trigger for migraines and headaches. As a matter of fact there is evidence to suggest that migraine sufferers need 30% more water per day than those who do not suffer from migraines. Great post!

  7. Deni says:

    I have had migraines for years, and it’s strange for me but when I overdo on the water, I get more headaches :<

  8. Jayne says:

    Forget Gatorade : drink coconut water! It’s a natural isotonic and is a much healthier libation for hydration.

  9. Bureinato says:

    Interesting. I drink a lot of water and herbal tea and am always thirsty. I may try weak Gatorade to see if that changes anything.

  10. Christina P says:

    Michael–Yes! Norco can cause your headaches to be more frequent, and can be a cause of headaches becoming chronic.

  11. kquig says:

    I just add a tsp or so of salt..sometime salt and dried ginger(anti-inflammatory) and a bit of agave to water. It also goes right thru me. I also drink herbal teas-non caff. because I am less likely to drink straight h2o. Anyway just salt to water for more retention.easy peasy.

  12. As a Chiropractor I treat many patients that suffer from migraines and I agree that dehydration can play a major role in them. Water is important, but you do need electrolytes as well. Most pain medications can damage the kidneys making them less efficient at processing some of your essential minerals. Try drinking a natural electrolyte like OWater Sport. I have no interest in this company, but the ingredients look better than gatorade since it has less sugar and the sugar that it does contain is actual sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup. Hope this helps.

  13. Jeff Kern says:

    Thank you for the great article. I often drink too much coffee and not enough water. In an age when people drink too much soda, we need to make sure to get those eight 8oz glasses in every day.

  14. Chet says:

    I’ve always been a heavy drinker of water. I had a co-worker that always tells me to “drink more water”. Let me tell you, it is possible to drink too much water. Not easy, but possible. I drink about 20 oz of water a day at work plus more water when I run (and especially after I run).
    The worst thing I ever did in my life was pick up my first bottle of Coca-Cola. The best thing I ever did? Cut out all drinks with HFCS (High Fructose Corn Syrup). And cut out artificial sweeteners. I am going to have to look into adding electrolytes to my drinks.

  15. Frank says:

    Kerrie,
    Have you ever tried acupuncture?
    http://www.dailyrx.com/news-article/migraines-tension-headaches-respond-acupuncture-300.html
    What happened with the duct cleaning that you said you had scheduled? It is well into the 100’s in Phoenix and I was wondering how the summer is affecting you. The coconut milk sounds like a good option too.

  16. Joan says:

    Today, I was told two things:
    1) that I looked “too good” to have a migraine and
    2) that I “just felt like everybody else, only worse”

    Sure hope this awareness gets here soon.

    ********
    Don’t you just love when others presume to know how you feel? Grrrr!

    Kerrie

  17. Joan says:

    Thanks Kerrie. It was a day where I felt that my experience with migraine was minimized. I think I posted this in the wrong place, but thanks for responding.

  18. Beth says:

    The next person who tells me that I’ll “outgrow” or outlive the migraines is liable to come to harm! Maybe the migraines will lessen after menopause, but they probably won’t go away because not all (not even most) of my migraines are hormonal. People mean well, but they tend to think that migraines in women = hormones. Sorry, had to vent.

    While drinks containing electrolytes may be helpful, they can also damage one’s teeth. I don’t remember why or how, but they do. It would be a good idea to consult your dentist as to the best method of preventing damage if you need to drink Gatorade or anything similar on a regular basis.

    *******
    I’m with you on the annoyance of being told you’ll outgrow the migraines. I know plenty of women post-menopausal who have migraines!

    Thanks for the information on electrolytes. It appears to be a controversial topic, but the potential of damaging teeth is always scary. Good idea to consult your dentist.

    Take care,
    Kerrie

  19. Dan says:

    I’ve had migraines;never chronic. Always a headachy person. I try to get 7 hrs sleep min, drink fluids heavy when I work hard or its hot-always supplement caffeines or alcohol drinking with water or milk. Avoid sugar excesses- this is a big one. If I wolf a bag of candy, a headache is likely. And another simpler fix is proper glasses if you need- the smallest eyestrain also triggers headache; whether it is a minor correction, too much time on tv, etc. Nip a migraine in the bud by early treatment of mild headache with aspirin and caffeine or whatever works best, but do it immediately. Use aspirin wisely- my father burned a hole in his stomach using it as a preventative.

  20. Aberline says:

    Dan, aspirin causes rebound headaches in most of us.

  21. Dan says:

    What is a rebound headache?

    *********
    It is a headache caused by taking too much medication. Here’s a good explanation: http://bit.ly/dy5RBz

    Kerrie

  22. Carla says:

    Hi Kerrie – this is a great article! I have had migraines since before I can remember (my mom claims since I was around 1), but until recently they have been episodic only (ha ha – ONLY!). The migraines got worse and increased in frequency about a year ago, so I thought it was time to increase my preventative or change to a new one, but my neurologist told me that there was nothing they could do – I was maxed out on preventative dosage and no new ones that I hadn’t tried. His suggestion was to take Tylenol daily or at least any time I felt a headache coming on. Now, I did know that taking too many painkillers causes rebound migraines (I take Fioricet as an abortive; allergic to triptans) so I have been super careful about my dosage and frequency of the prescription stuff. I never took Tylenol on a daily basis, but I start overdoing it. My job was on the line… stress caused more migraines, so I took more Tylenol, which stopped working, so I had to take more Fioricet. Then, about 8 months ago, my migraines transformed and Fioricet stopped working, too. Chronic daily migraine, hello! Yep, lost my job. About a month ago, I saw a neurosurgeon because my neurologist threw up his hands in disgust and said he had nothing new for me to try. The neurosurgeon pretty much took one look at me and said “Chronic dehydration” – makes sense since I have been hospitalized several times with severe dehydration in the past, but still shocking since I drink so much water, right?!?! He says it is not the ONLY reason I have migraines, but thanks to IV drip infusions and oral rehydration solution, I have a little bit of my life back. Also, less muscle stiffness, depression, and insomnia – but that may be due to not working in a stressful environment anymore!
    But I worry about drinking too many electrolytes – any suggestions on knowing when is enough?!
    Sorry this was so long – I really needed to vent!

  23. Missy says:

    Kerrie~ I wonder if it would help you to add some chia seeds to your diet. They are said to kind of absorb water to help avoid dehydration. I think athletes are known to use them for that reason. Might be worth a try.

  24. Mary says:

    I am pretty upset with my regular MD because before I switched off of state funded insurance to regular insurance I had seen a Neurologist for my chronic daily headaches/migraines… Now my meds are no longer working and he doesn’t want to try anything new and I want to see a neurologist or a headache specialist but now I am wondering if this is dehydration. Like many of you I think I drink tons of water and you can see through my urine but the headaches get worse and worse.. ADVISE Anyone please..

  25. Gina says:

    I am 44 years old and have had severe migraines since my late teens. I recently had a major surgery which requires me to now drink 2 to 3 liters of water a day. I was never a big water drinker prior to this other than having it with meals. I was taking preventative meds daily and Imitrex for the pain between 10 and 20 times a month and was always guaranteed to have migraines during hormonal times of the month as well. But in the last few months of drinking all this water, I have virtually eliminated my migraines and I am now slowly getting off of my preventative meds with no negative effects. I still have a little migraine during hormonal times, but it’s gone in 20 minutes with the Imitrex. It has just amazed me that it took me having this other surgery and being forced to drink all this water, and having found “the cure” to my migraine as a pleasant side effect. Everyone is different, and this may not be their cure, but I sure wish I knew this 20 years ago and a whole lot of money spent on Doctors and prescriptions could have been saved! I think everyone should at least give it a try and stick with it for a good 3 months and see how they feel. Maybe they’ll have my same “miracle cure”!

  26. Kathryn says:

    I definitely think dehydration is a major contributor to migraines, but as a sufferer for 30+ years I also believe two other important factors to consider are eye protection, and teeth. I used to get headaches when I played golf which I attributed to dehydration. But as it turns out wearing a hat and sunglasses to reduce squinting for hours at a time was also a HUGE help.

    I also had all of my metal fillings replaced (because they needed it, not because of headaches) but found as a side effect I had MUCH FEWER headaches. I attributed it to the switch from mercury to composite fillings but my newest dentist said it could also just have been my bite…if your teeth don’t line up absolutely correctly it can cause headaches, esp. to someone like me who grinds her teeth in her sleep.

  27. Saea C says:

    Hi- just wanted to chime in here, and say that coconut water while hydrating, can be a significant migraine trigger for lots of people. Also, artificial sweeteners are commonly cited as being migraine inducers as well. And I’m sure you all are aware of not drinking anything with lots of sugar, and link with hypoglycemia (trigger). Hope this helps!
    

  28. Gary says:

    I get dehydration headaches and migraines. Migraines have gone from 1/month to maybe one a year now that I try to drink a lot of water.

    Another suggestion is to drink small amounts over a long period of time. When incapacitated I’ll down 30 ounces at a time. Or as I drink throughout the day, knowing I need to, I’m inclined to drink 30 ounces at once instead of spreading it out. My wife tells me to spread it out more and I think she’s right.

    One of my problems is that I never feel thirsty, it’s not really a sensation I have, or it’s very weak.

    Thanks for the notes, it’s interesting how hard some of this basic information is to find for something that can be so incapacitating.

  29. Gary Gross says:

    Kerrie, Thanks. Did you ever find out why you don’t retain water?

    It takes a day for my headaches to go away, even though I know to drink a lot. Other people drink something and feel better in an hour or two, I can’t imagine that.

    If I’m really active/sweat and drink a lot the same day/night, I often still get a headache the next day.

    I suspect I don’t absorb water well or possibly dehydration is a trigger and not a root cause.

    I’m in good health, average BMI, very active, and yearly health incentive testing like blood sugar is always good.

    Gary

    • Gary, I found nothing conclusive and have since stopped drinking anything electrolyte drinks. I think maybe it was a false correlation for me. Are the headaches you mention triggered by dehydration? I’m wondering if they’re just headaches or are dehydration- and/or exercise-triggered migraine attacks, especially because they last all day.

      Kerrie

  30. Gary Gross says:

    Too bad you didn’t figure it out yet. Yeah, dehydrate easily and no matter what I drink I can get a headache the day after. I compete, am sponsored, so exercise is strenuous. I guess you’re right, a trigger. Luckily if it’s a migraine, full on dizzy, sick, etc – Immitrex works 100% of the time so i’m lucky to that extent.

    Currently cutting out sugar and sports drinks too. If I drink tons of water a day before I do something exhausting, I’m okay. Hard to do that when i’m never thirsty though. Good luck, thanks for posting this article!

  31. Suzi says:

    I was also told to drink more water to alleviate my almost daily migraines. I was a coffee/tea drinker.
    I did try but found it made no difference. Then a friend suggested drinking oral rehydration powders. I drink one twice a day and touch wood – no more migraines! A miracle for me and now I won’t go anywhere without the powders and take an extra one in hot energetic conditions such as walking in the sun or swimming. :)

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