Remember to Hydrate! 17 Health Issues Caused by Lack of Water

Water is essential for life. It makes up 55-60% of your body and your body gets cranky when it’s forced to go short. It’s fairly obvious to everyone that lack of water for a prolonged period – usually reported to be 3 days – will lead to death. But your health isn’t only at risk in the kinds of emergency situations where you don’t have access to any water at all. Skimping on your hydration just a little is enough to bring on health problems.

According to the Journal of Biological Chemistry

  • Your blood is 95% water.
  • Your brain and heart are 73% water.
  • Your lungs are 83% water.
  • Your muscles and kidneys are 79% water.
  • Your bones are 31% water.
  • Your skin is 64% water.

So you can see that running low on water can have some pretty major implications.

A study conducted by researchers at Harvard University discovered that over half of the children in the US are dehydrated, with one quarter of children not drinking water on a daily basis.


How Much Water Is Enough?

Most experts recommend that you drink eight 8oz glasses of water each day. Some disagree and say that fluid intake should be higher while others say that 8 x 8 is too much for some people.

You should also bear in mind that eight ounces is a recommendation for everyone, regardless of gender, weight, muscle mass, climate, general health status, etc. So treat it as a ballpark figure. Aim to drink at least that amount. You won’t come to any harm by drinking more, you’ll just need to use the bathroom more frequently.

Wanting to avoid frequent trips to the bathroom is a major reason why people don’t drink enough water. If public bathroom facilities aren’t very nice, or if there might not even be any around, people choose to limit their fluid intake until they’re back at home and near a nice bathroom again. This is a really bad idea. If you do this you’re putting your entire body under pressure for hours and hours every day and storing up some health problems.

Your fluid intake doesn’t have to come entirely from your drinks. The water content in the food that you eat typically makes up around 20-25% of your daily need for fluid. You can increase the amount of water that you get from your diet by including water rich foods, like salad vegetables, green leafy vegetables and juicy fruits. The food with the highest water content is cucumber, which is 97% water.

Your body gives you a built-in hydration level check system – your thirst level and the color of your urine. When your body has lost 1-2% of its total water, it will send out the thirst signal. As long as you heed it and drink some water you should stay well hydrated. Children and the elderly have less reliable thirst indicators, so care should be taken to make sure that kids are drinking plenty throughout the day, and elderly people can ensure that they don’t become dehydrated by taking drinks on a regular schedule.

Also if you’re properly hydrated, your urine will be light yellow to colorless. If you’re not getting enough water, it will be darker. Darker urine is also stronger urine, so it will have a definite smell, whereas the urine that you make when you’re hydrated shouldn’t smell at all. So check your pee, people!

When you’re well hydrated, you should expect to need to visit the bathroom around eight times a day. If you’re going less than that or you’re able to go for several hours without feeling the urge to urinate then you probably need to drink more water.

Let’s take a look at some of the health issues that can be caused by lack of water


1. Dehydration

Dehydrated people will initially experience thirst, headache, and dryness in their mouths. If water isn’t provided, the symptoms will become more severe and can include tiredness and confusion, inability to urinate, nausea and chest pain.

Young children and the elderly are more prone to dehydration than adults because their thirst mechanism isn’t as reliable. If someone is dehydrated, they obviously need water but they will rehydrate more quickly with an oral rehydration solution. If you have coconut water on hand that is perfect to use, and it is used in a medical setting in many tropical countries for that purpose.

If you don’t have that on hand or have any other ready made solution like pedialyte, you can make an oral rehydration solution with sugar salt and water. Follow the instructions at


2. Constipation

When you’re dehydrated, transit time through your intestines increases and more water is removed from the stool to be recycled elsewhere in the body. This leads to a hard dry stool that is both difficult and painful to pass as well as abdominal discomfort and bloating. Stools should be uniformly smooth and quite narrow. If your stool has a cracked surface, you are probably suffering from mild constipation and should increase your fluid intake to prevent more severe constipation.

A powerful cure for even the most severe constipation is magnesium citrate. It works by drawing extra fluid into the bowel which softens the stool and provides additional lubrication.


3. Urinary Tract Infections

Regular urination removes bacteria from the urinary tract. Infrequent urination can lead to a buildup of bacteria which causes painful urinary tract infection and cystitis. Cystiti in an infection of the bladder and can quickly progress to a much more serious kidney infection.

Women are eight times more likely to suffer from UTIs than men, one reason is  because the urinary tract in women is shorter than in men which means that the bacteria can colonize the area more quickly. Statistics show that 15% of women suffer a UTI each year.

Some drinks  – alcohol, acidic fruit juices and coffee and tea – can irritate the urinary tract and cause inflammation. When the urinary tract is inflamed the balance of beneficial bacteria and harmful bacteria can become unbalanced and lead to an infection. Drinking plenty of pure water is the best way to ensure that you maintain a healthy urinary tract and bladder and avoid the misery and inconvenience of a UTI.


4. Joint Pain

Joint Pain

Your joints are cushioned by a thick gel-like liquid called synovial fluid. The primary components in synovial fluid are carbohydrate and protein complexes called glycosaminoglycans (GAGs). Together with sulfur compounds, these GAGs form a matrix like a sponge, that cushions and  lubricates the joints.

For this spongy matrix to work effectively it has to be full of water. When you don’t have enough water in your system, less is available to form the gel that cushions your joints and pain results. Long term damage can occur as joints experience wear from inadequate lubrication and reduced shock absorption.


5. Premature Aging

Premature aging is usually thought of as just a skin problem. But it affects you on both the outside and the inside. Your organs (of which your skin is the largest)  perform their functions less optimally as you age, and while that has to be accepted as part of the normal aging process, premature decrease in organ function is completely avoidable.

Making sure that you have plenty of fluid available at all times means that your body won’t be stressed by lack of water and your organs will support your good health for a long time.


6. Fatigue

When your body is dehydrated, it takes some water from your blood. When blood is improperly hydrated, it carries less oxygen to every part of your body, including your brain. An oxygen deprived brain is a sleepy brain.

Dr. Woodson Merrell of New York’s Beth Israel Medical Center says that half of the patients that come to him complaining of fatigue turn out to be dehydrated. And a survey of 300 doctors in the UK found that 20% of the patients seeking treatment for fatigue are actually just dehydrated. So fatigue caused by water shortage is fairly common.


7. Blood pressure Changes

Your blood is 95% water and when your body is dehydrated, it will take water from your blood for use elsewhere. This leads to decreased blood volume, which in turn leads to a lower blood pressure or hypotension.

Dehydration can also lead to high blood pressure or hypertension. This happens because your body retains sodium, and sodium raises blood pressure. In addition, dehydration causes your body to gradually restrict some of the capillaries, which increases pressure on the artery walls.


8. Weight Gain

 Weight Gain

When your body is sufficiently hydrated, it doesn’t worry about dehydration and won’t store any extra water.

But when you don’t drink enough water, your body worries that a real world water shortage is happening and begins to store water just in case. That adds extra weight to your body. When you hydrate properly, your body realizes that the drought is over and lets go of the water it’s been holding onto.

If you are always mildly dehydrated then your body is always holding onto water to see it through the emergency, and you’ll see those extra pounds on your scale. Drinking more water could lead to some easy weight loss.

Dehydration could also be causing you to eat too much. Often when you feel hungry, you are actually thirsty and you’ve misinterpreted your body’s thirst signal.

Weight loss experts always suggest responding to hunger signals with a glass of water first, as hunger is often your body asking for water.

Dehydration also slows down your metabolism, and a sluggish metabolism packs the pounds on.


9. High Cholesterol

When you don’t drink enough water, your blood becomes thicker. As this thicker blood is pushed around your circulatory system, your blood vessels become damaged. Cholesterol is your body’s emergency repair kit, it’s sent out to patch up weak spots.

In a well-functioning system your cholesterol is smooth and only stays in place long enough for the underlying tissues to regenerate. But in a sluggish system the cholesterol hangs around because the tissues haven’t been repaired. This cholesterol becomes sticky and it grabs onto other substances in the blood and can cause the space in the artery to become restricted.

If you remain dehydrated, then you will damage more and more of your blood vessels over time and your body will send out more and more cholesterol patch kits. These cholesterol plaques can block arteries and lead to strokes and heart attacks.

Drink enough water and your body won’t need to produce all of that cholesterol.


10. Allergies

One way that your body rations water when you are dehydrated is by restricting airways, so that less moisture is lost via respiration. People who are dehydrated over the long term are more likely to develop respiratory problems like asthma.

As your body loses water the rate of histamine production increases. According to some researchers, chronic dehydration “is the primary cause of allergies and asthma in the human body.”


11. Raised Blood Sugar

When you’re dehydrated, your body produces a hormone called vasopressin. Vasopressin causes your kidneys to hold onto water and also induces your liver to produce blood sugar, which may lead to elevated blood sugar levels.

One study found that adults who drank half a liter of water (two glasses) or less each day were more likely to develop blood sugar levels consistent with pre-diabetes range than people who drank more water.


12. Heart Failure

Cardiovascular shock is a condition which is responsible for thousands of deaths each year in the United States. Cardiovascular Shock is also known as Cardiovascular Insult and is caused by dehydration.

Cardiovascular shock  occurs when the body becomes dehydrated  and plunges into a state of shock. Dehydration is often ignored when there is enough water loss to be a potential problem but not enough to cause serious symptoms – yet! Usually a person feeling thirsty will drink enough to satisfy their thirst, but that is not necessarily enough to safeguard normal bodily functioning.

Unfortunately for a large percentage of dehydration victims the first symptoms of cardiovascular shock are often fatal.


13. Overheating

The water inside your body regulates your skin temperature and the temperature for your internal organs, particularly following exertion of any kind. If you don’t drink enough water, then this system can’t work properly and can cause you to experience cramps, a racing pulse, fatigue, dizziness and confusion, headache, nausea, hot dry skin or heavy sweating and loss of consciousness.  

Many people die each year due to heat emergencies, so knowing what to do in that situation could save a life.

If you are with someone that is suffering from heat stroke, call emergency services and follow their instructions.

If you are outdoors, you should move them into or provide shade.

Give the person plenty of water.

You will need to help them to cool down until their body can resume that function. You can do this by

  • Using ice packs, bags of frozen vegetables, or even cans of soda from the fridge and placing them on the person’s neck, armpits and groin to bring their temperature down quickly.
  • Placing cold wet towels or sheets over them.
  • Helping the person into a cold bath or shower.
  • Spraying them with a garden hose.
  • Sponging them with cold water


14. Digestive Problems

Common Digestive Problems

Your digestive system uses a lot of water to process the food that you eat. Water is necessary to produce various gastric juices. When water is in short supply, your digestion will slow down and you’ll be more likely to experience indigestion, acid reflux and ulcers.


15. Cognitive Impairment

When you don’t drink enough water, your ability to process information and make decisions is impaired. This can result in poor performance in work and at school. For those who operate machinery these implications can be severe. Studies have found that the rate of industrial accidents increases during the warmer summer months and this is believed to be because the extra fluid lost through sweating is not being sufficiently replaced.

Cognitive impairment due to mild dehydration is also a factor in many traffic accidents as many people will choose to drink less if they have a long drive ahead of them.

One study that investigated the effects of mild dehydration on driving ability gave participants different amounts of water to drink. The hydrated drivers were asked to drink 200ml (6 ounces) of water each hour. The second group of dehydrated drivers were given 25ml (0.8 ounces or just under 2 tablespoons) of water each hour.

The hydrated drivers made on average 47 errors while the dehydrated men made 101 errors. To put that in perspective, 101 errors is the same error rate displayed by sleep deprived drivers and those over the drink drive limit.

That is a truly frightening statistic. While drivers can be checked for blood alcohol, no one is checking for hydration levels (and perish the thought of that), but at any one time it is reasonable to suppose that there are many more mildly dehydrated drivers on the road than drunk ones.

The researcher said that, “The level of dehydration induced in the present study was mild and could easily be reproduced by individuals with limited access to fluid over the course of a busy working day.”

We would all do well to take a drink of water before getting behind the wheel.


16. Depression And Mood

Studies have shown that even mild dehydration can alter mood, inducing irritability, aggression and depression. CBS Miami reported in 2013 that 75% of the American population is considered to be chronically dehydrated. Drinking enough water could relieve you of feelings that are making your life less enjoyable than it should be.


17. Headaches

Mild dehydration is a major cause of headaches. And it’s an easy one to address. When you feel a headache come on, instead of reaching for a pain killer, drink a large glass of water and wait for 15-20 minutes. If your headache was the result of a need for water, then it should have gone away, or at least be easing by then.

Written by Irina Radosevic MD
Irina graduated from the University of Belgrade, School of Medicine as a Doctor of Medicine (MD) and spent over 3 years working in the Clinical Hospital Center Zvezdara, in the Department of Emergency Medicine. She also undertook a postgraduate in Cardiology from the same University and had previously worked for over a year as a Physician and Nutritionist Dietitian for the Fitness club Green Zone. She eventually left her chaotic but fulfilling job in the ER to pursue her passion of writing, travelling and mountain climbing which has included writing a first aid course for the alpine club of Belgrade. Irina currently works as a VA for PintMedia focusing on medical and travel writing. Feel free to connect with Irina on LinkedIn and FaceBook. Her CV can be seen here.