Your breath, skin, and body temperature may be telling you you’re running low on water.
By Nancie George
Medically Reviewed by Lynn Grieger, RDN, CDCES – Everyday Life

Every living creature needs water to survive. Yet sweating, peeing, vomiting, or having diarrhea can cause a loss of fluid, says MedlinePlus, further increasing your fluid needs, threatening your survival, and, in a complex physiological process described in a May 2018 article in Current Biol e thirsty, that’s the most obvious sign you’re dehydrated, meaning your body doesn’t have enough fluid to function properly.

According to MedlinePlus, being dehydrated doesn’t just mean your body is losing water ... it also means you’re losing electrolytes, such as salt and potassium, which help your body breathe, move, talk, and do all the other things it needs to do to stay up and running.

As MedlinePlus points out, certain health conditions, including diabetes, can put you at an increased risk for dehydration. If you’ve been sweating too much due to heat or overexertion, throwing up or having diarrhea because of the flu or another acute illness, or urinating frequently, it’s important to watch your fluid intake.

People who are especially vulnerable to losing fluid include those who are unable to quench their thirst because of disability or disease, those who are athletes, and those who are simply too young or too old to replace fluids on their own, according to NHS Inform. Men who are middle-aged or elderly may also be at an increased risk of complications from dehydration, according to a small study published in September 2020 in The Journal of Physiology. (The study did not involve women.) The researchers found that over time, the body becomes worse at detecting markers of dehydration (such as high levels of salt in the blood), and without these signals, older adults may not realize they are dehydrated or take steps to rehydrate. Untreated dehydration can cause the heart rate to increase, straining your ticker.

Becoming extremely dehydrated—defined by the World Health Organization as losing more than 10% of your body weight in fluid—can lead to injury or fatal complications, and it requires an ER visit. Seizures, cardiac arrhythmia, or hypovolemic shock can occur because your blood volume is too low.

Yet it rarely comes to that. Most of the time, you can easily replenish your fluid stores and fend off dehydration. The truth is you can lose 3 to 4 percent of your body weight through dehydration without feeling any real symptoms, says Alp Arkun, MD, the Chief of Service for Emergency Medicine at the Kaiser Permanente Fontana and Ontario Medical Centers in Southern California. Yet, once you have lost 5 to 6 percent, you’ll start to feel the symptoms of mild dehydration, notes MedlinePlus. Thirst, fatigue, dizziness, or constipation are sure signs it’s time to reach for water or a sports drink that’s low in sugar and high in electrolytes. 

But the signs of dehydration aren’t always so obvious. Here are six surprising signs and symptoms of dehydration.

  1. Bad Breath Is a Possible Warning Sign of Dehydration 
  2. Dry or Flushed Skin Could Be a Symptom of Dehydration 
  3. Muscle Cramps Are a Dehydration Symptom, Likely from Heat Illness
  4. Fever and Chills Are Symptoms of Heat Illness, Which Causes Dehydration
  5. Food Cravings, Especially for Sweets, May Just Mean You’re Thirsty
  6. Headaches Could Be a Sign You Need to Drink More Water


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Updated: August 16, 2017