The Connections Between Headache and Thirst Explained

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Headache and thirst are linked in several ways.
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Need another reason to drink a tall glass of water? Consider this: Being thirsty can mean you're dehydrated, which is a common cause of a headache, and thirst can also be a trigger for a migraine headache. Headache and thirst are linked in several ways.

What's a Thirst Headache?

Dehydration occurs when you lose more fluid than you take in. Thirst is not the only symptom. Other symptoms include headache, dizziness, irritability and fatigue. Your mouth and skin may feel dry and you may have decreased urine that comes out darker than usual, the National Headache Foundation says.

"Being dehydrated can cause a thirst headache that is similar to a tension headache," says Zubair Ahmed, MD, a neurologist and headache specialist at the Cleveland Clinic's Center for Neuro-Restoration. "It may feel like a band around your head. Drinking fluid may relieve or prevent this type of headache."

"You should normally try to drink 60 to 90 ounces of water every day," he says. "You may need to drink more if you are active."

Read more: How Can I Tell When My Body Is Hydrated?

According to the Mayo Clinic, tension headaches are the most common type of headache, and one way to try to avoid this headache is to drink plenty of water. Tension headaches tend to be mild to moderate, lasting about 30 minutes. The pain tends to be dull and aching with a sensation of tightness across your forehead, temples and the back of your head. You may also feel like your scalp, neck and shoulders are tender and sore.

Other triggers for this headache include stress, not getting enough sleep, smoking and drinking too much alcohol or caffeine, the Mayo Clinic says. You can tell a tension headache from a migraine because tension headaches rarely occur on one side of the head, cause nausea or vomiting or cause any changes in vision.

Migraine Headache and Excessive Thirst

Excessive thirst also may be a warning of an upcoming migraine headache. Many people with migraines have early warning symptoms called a prodrome. These symptoms may occur one or two days before a migraine attack, according to the Mayo Clinic. Increased thirst is a common prodrome symptom, along with mood changes, food cravings and frequent yawning, it says.

People who have migraine headaches also have migraine triggers. These triggers can be different for different people, but thirst and dehydration are common triggers. In fact, according to the American Migraine Foundation, dehydration is one of the top 10 migraine triggers, along with triggers like stress, lack of sleep, caffeine or alcohol, changes in the weather and certain foods.

Read more: How Much Water Should I Drink Every Day?

"Thirst is more closely linked to migraine than any other type of headache, because dehydration is a very common cause of a migraine attack," says Dr. Ahmed.

The American Migraine Foundation says that about a third of people with migraines say dehydration is a trigger for their attacks. Even mild dehydration can be a trigger. In some cases, an attack may be prevented by drinking fluids. Migraine headaches last longer and are more severe than dehydration tension-type headaches. Mayo Clinic describes a typical migraine attack as a headache that:

  • Is severe enough to prevent activities of daily living.
  • Causes throbbing or pulsating pain.
  • Usually occurs on one side of the head.
  • Can last for hours or days.
  • Causes nausea and vomiting.
  • Is made worse by light and sound.

Preventing Thirst Headaches

See your doctor if you have a migraine headache or if you have headaches triggered by thirst that do not go away after drinking water (rehydrating). The National Headache Foundation offers these tips for preventing a dehydration headache:

  • Drink more water if you have a condition that causes fluid loss, such as vomiting, diarrhea or fever.
  • Excessive sweating is another cause of fluid loss and dehydration. Rehydrate if you are sweating from exercise, especially in hot weather.
  • When you become dehydrated, you are also losing important blood minerals called electrolytes. Consider rehydrating with an oral rehydration solution. These solutions replace water, electrolytes and sugar.
  • Avoid rehydrating with fluids that increase dehydration, like drinks that contain caffeine or alcohol.

Is This an Emergency?

To reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 infections, it is best to call your doctor before leaving the house if you are experiencing a high fever, shortness of breath or another, more serious symptom.
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