Dehydration Headaches and Muscle Cramps Explained! (+Solutions)

If you’ve ever felt a dull or sharp, pulsing headache that worsened with head movements or even exposure to bright lights but vanished once you drank water, chances are you had a dehydration headache...

This kind of headache has likely happened to you more times than you may have clocked that all your body needed was some good old hydration.

Science says the human body is approximately 60% water; you do the math, that's more than it's worth paying attention to.

You’ve got fluids in your mouth, blood, head, muscle tissue, joints, spinal cord, trillions of cells, and everywhere else. It’s why the average human is said to have the capacity to endure three weeks without food but only around three days without water. 

But water is not the only thing that keeps you up and running. There are the underdogs—a group of minerals called electrolytes—dissolved in your body fluids.

To promote optimal health, they perform many functions, including:

  • Improving water retention and hydration levels
  • Supporting cellular function
  • Regulating nerve and muscle function (and recovery)
  • Supporting cardiovascular function
  • Balancing blood acidity and pressure
  • Facilitating nutrient transport and conversion into energy
  • Repairing damaged tissues


Dehydration happens when your body loses more fluid—and electrolytes—in than it receives. To out it simply, the balance becomes out of whack.

You may become dehydrated if you:

  • Sweat excessively due to increased physical activity, a high fever, or hot climates
  • Urinate excessively due to diuretic medication or alcohol/caffeine consumption
  • Breathe heavily from having asthma or living in a high altitude
  • Are sick with diarrhea and/or vomiting

Sadly, headaches are one painful condition that can easily be triggered once your body starts losing hydration. According to the American Migraine Foundation, about 1/3 of people with migraine report that dehydration is a trigger.

But since headache is a nonspecific symptom, you can’t always be sure you are experiencing a dehydration headache unless it is accompanied by the following symptoms:

  • Thirst
  • Dark yellow colored and strong-smelling urine
  • Infrequent urination
  • Sluggishness
  • Fatigue
  • Bad breath
  • Dry or sticky mouth
  • Cracked lips
  • Rapid heart rate but low blood pressure
  • Reduced appetite
  • Dizziness
  • Confusion or poor concentration
  • Muscle cramps 

Pain from a dehydration headache can be felt all over the head or in one spot, say the front or sides of your head. It can range in severity from mild to severe, and some people (e.g., children, seniors, and persons with underlying health conditions) can be more susceptible than others. 

So What Causes Dehydration Headaches? 

The exact cause of dehydration headaches is unknown as the brain can only detect pain around the body but not experience it directly, given its lack of pain receptors. However, several interconnected physiological factors may serve as triggers, including:

  • Poor circulation and reduced oxygen and nutrient supply to the brain due to a drop in blood pressure and volume.
  • Impaired nerve and muscle function resulting from electrolyte imbalance.
  • Pressure on the pain-sensitive meninges (*protective membrane surrounding the brain) as the brain shrinks in size and pulls away from the skull.
  • Constant vasodilation of the cranial arteries to allow increased blood flow to the brain. 
  • Elevated histamine level. Histamine is a compound used by the immune system as a defense system to fight off threats and injury to the body. When you are dehydrated, histamine is continuously released as a means to preserve your hydration level from dropping. Too much histamine in the blood has been linked to the development and severity of migraine and allergy-like symptoms.

How to Get Rid of A Dehydration Headache

Drinking 16 to 32 ounces of water can help with headaches. But, if you still have a dehydration headache after drinking water, you should consider drinking more fluids, replenishing your electrolyte levels, applying a cold compress, taking over-the-counter pain relievers, and lying down for a few hours. 

You should seek medical help immediately if your headache persists alongside symptoms like dizziness, confusion, and heart palpitations. 

To keep the dehydration headaches at bay, we recommend that you:

  • Always carry a water bottle around.
  • Wear breathable clothing in hot weather to avoid overheating.
  • Set a water drinking reminder on your phone. 
  • Keep caffeine- and sugar-free electrolyte solutions like our award-winning (cough cough) Hydration within reach.

Moving on to another painful dehydration symptom — muscle cramps. 

What Causes Dehydration Muscle Cramps? 

Similar to headaches, dehydration muscle cramps are triggered by rapid loss and insufficient intake of fluids. However, the crux lies in the depletion of electrolytes, minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium, that play essential roles in muscle contraction, recovery, and nerve signaling. Dehydration disrupts the delicate electrolyte equilibrium, leading to hyperexcitability of nerves and increased susceptibility to muscle cramps, fatigue, stiffness, and acute pain.

The Best Way to Get Rid of Dehydration Muscle Cramps

Unlike how drinking plain water can help with dehydration headaches, research has proven that doing so will only make you prone to or worsen your muscle cramps because it will dilute the concentration of electrolytes available in your muscles instead of replacing what you lost. 

You can source electrolytes from nutrient-dense foods, including leafy green vegetables, fruits, dairy products, coconut water, seeds, and nuts. However, relying solely on these sources may not be the most efficient or intentional way to replenish electrolyte levels. Do you know why? Well, nobody sprinkles pistachios on their plate to obtain the antioxidant lutein, which is essential for eye health; we choose these foods because we believe that they offer overall health benefits compared to, say, M&Ms. At the end of the day, the goal of a healthy diet is wholesome nutrition. 

Moreover, the absorption of electrolytes from your food and their bioavailability depend on factors like:

  • The presence of other nutrients in the food. E.g., phytates in seeds and some nuts can decrease the absorption of calcium and magnesium.
  • The food preparation method. Some nutrients are depleted and degraded when foods are cooked on high or prolonged heat.
  • Your digestive health and the integrity of your gastrointestinal tract.
  • Presence of any underlying health conditions that impair nutrient absorption.

Sports drinks provide an alternative method to get your electrolytes in. But while they are widely recognized and proven to help with dehydration muscle cramps in athletes, the existing research doesn’t look beyond immediate hydration benefits to document the potential dangers. 

Prolonged consumption of sports drinks raises concerns due to their:

  • High caloric content
  • High acidic nature, which may erode the enamel and cause tooth damage.
  • High sugar and caffeine content adversely affecting mood, sleep, energy levels, and overall well-being. 

Taking sports drinks to help with muscle cramps without performing vigorous exercise can significantly increase your risk of developing obesity, high blood pressure, gout, type 2 diabetes, cognitive impairments, and cardiovascular diseases down the line. 

HUX Hydration offers the best and most convenient way to replenish your electrolyte levels with hydration tablets loaded with a carefully formulated complex of minerals. No added sugar. No caffeine. No funny stuff. All you need to do is add the tablets to plain water, and you are good to go. 

Top 10 Migraine Triggers and How to Deal with Them | AMF. (2017, July 27). American Migraine Foundation. Retrieved February 9, 2024, from